We are coming up on one year since the pandemic changed our lives. A year is a long time and can especially feel longer during the winter months. Do you find yourself dragging through the day, grabbing an energy drink, soda or extra cup of coffee?
Whether you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or if the winter months, coupled with the pandemic, are wearing you down, take a look at your food choices. Are you ready for a change? I know I am! Healthy nutrition can impact how you feel, and here is how.
First, aim to include a variety of foods and food groups each day to your menu plan. Choose more complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates include beans, lentils, 100% whole grain products and starchy vegetables such as sweet potato, winter squash and potatoes.
You will see several of these listed again because they are that important. Yes, these carbohydrates are good for you. By choosing complex carbohydrates over refined carbohydrates, you are fueling your body with vitamins, minerals and fiber. Let’s take a closer look at some important vitamins that provide long-lasting benefits and may boost your winter well-being.
Vitamin B6 is a vitamin found in many plant-based and animal products. Vitamin B6 is important for brain development and helps keep the nervous system and immune system healthy. Good sources of Vitamin B6 include chicken, tuna, salmon, liver, dairy, beans, spinach, carrots, oats, bananas, whole grain flour, bran and brown rice.
Serotonin is a chemical released by the nervous system and has been found to help mood, calm nerves and promote relaxation. To increase our body’s serotonin, we need folic acid. Folic acid is another important B vitamin that can be found in dark, green, leafy vegetables and plants, beets, eggs, citrus fruits, nuts, seeds and lentils.
Vitamin D has many important functions, such as reducing inflammation and supporting immune function. Over time, inflammation can increase risk for chronic diseases. This time of year, many of us northern Minnesotans are unable to get enough natural Vitamin D from sunshine.
Other natural forms of Vitamin D can be found in fish such as salmon and canned tuna, egg yolk and mushrooms. Many foods are fortified with Vitamin D and offer the same benefits as natural Vitamin D. Foods that are commonly fortified with Vitamin D include, milk, orange juice, cereal and oatmeal.
Lastly, foods rich in antioxidants such as beta-carotene, Vitamin C and Vitamin E can support healthy immune function, especially important during the cold and flu season. Good sources of beta carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A, include spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and cantaloupe. Good sources of Vitamin C are well known and include citrus fruits, broccoli, peppers, strawberries and tomatoes. Vitamin E can be enjoyed in nuts and seeds, beans, wheat germ and margarine.
All this sounds good on paper, but how are you going to include these foods into your meals? Plan ahead for both meals and snacks and think about combining the foods above to create a more nutrient-rich meal. Suggest a meal swap with a neighbor a couple times a month. This is a great way to try something different and share your favorite meal as well.
Lastly, consider checking out a cookbook from the library. As you can see, many of the foods above offer a variety of nutrients, so it may be easier than you think to enjoy a wholesome, energy-boosting, COVID-kicking meal plan.
Tammy Licari, RD, CDCES, LD, CD, is a St. Luke’s Clinical Dietitian.