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Foods to boost mood and fight winter weight gain

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Winter weight gain is common, with many people putting on around a pound during the winter months.

The lack of sunlight in the winter can also affect people's moods.

Here are some tips on picking foods to help boost winter moods and fight weight gain in the colder months.

How blood sugar alters your mood

The best way to cope is to keep your mood and energy stable. You'll not only feel better, but will be much less likely to overeat.

Choosing foods that your body absorbs slowly keeps blood sugar steady, helping to maintain your feelings on an even keel. Slow-digesting foods include wholegrain cereal with milk, brown rice with salmon or chicken breast, a peanut butter sandwich with wholemeal bread, or a spinach salad and half a turkey sandwich with milk. Consider eating either quality carbohydrates or carbohydrates mixed with protein.

Foods that absorb quickly, such as sugar, white bread, or anything refined, give you a blood sugar high; then cause it to crash suddenly. After a crash, you'll feel irritable and hungry and end up eating chocolate bars or sweets, setting yourself up for yet another blood sugar dive.

Boost your mood with feel-good serotonin

High-protein diets may help you shed weight, but they won’t do much to raise your spirits. That's because your body craves serotonin, the feel-good chemical found in foods that boost your mood.

Carbohydrates are essential for moving tryptophan (the amino acid that is converted into serotonin) to the brain. When your blood sugar drops, less carbohydrate is available in the bloodstream; less tryptophan moves across into the brain and your mood can plummet.

In fact, researchers at Arizona State University in the US found that, after just two weeks, a very low carbohydrate diet increased fatigue and reduced the desire of overweight adults to exercise.

Serotonin fights winter weight gain, too. It tells you when you've had enough by causing satiety (a feeling of fullness) and reducing your appetite.

Wave goodbye to stress-induced mood swings

Although experts usually advise avoiding simple carbohydrates, afternoon mood swings cry out for fast fixes.

If you feel grumpy in the afternoon, eat only carbohydrates, some experts suggest. Eating protein with carbohydrates blocks serotonin production, while high-fat foods keep digestion slow. When you're stressed, reach for carbohydrates and simple sugars that digest quickly. Consuming some simple carbohydrates is your body's natural way of dealing with stress.

Try low-fat foods with carbohydrates, such as a baked potato, crackers, popcorn or low-fat cereal, which is also loaded with healthy fibre.

Food and diet tips to keep your mood stable

As well as carbohydrates, studies indicate that many other foods, together with healthy eating habits, may help our moods and ease depression.

Omega-3 fatty acids: Studies show that people who infrequently eat fish, which is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, are more likely to suffer depression. So add foods rich in Omega-3s to your diet. Good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines. Other good food sources include flaxseed, nuts and dark green leafy vegetables.

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