Beat the Holiday Blahs With These 5 Mood-Boosting Foods

“You’re such a killjoy!” I chided my friend. Driving back from The Grove, a particular Christmas song came on the radio and she immediately changed stations.

I gave her a bewildered how could you hate the holidays? look. “Those songs just trigger unpleasant memories for me,” she replied. “Compound those feelings with the pressure to buy perfect gifts and the stress of always being “on” for family, and well, I just feel exhausted. Is it January yet?”

While I love the holidays, I understand her frustration. Christmas dinner with your in-laws or standing in hours-long lines to buy gifts can challenge even the most optimistic, well-adjusted person. Never mind finding the perfect gift; can I get a parking spot, please?

More than just a blah feeling, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) diminishes the quality of life for many folks during the darker, colder, bleak winter months. Feeling depressed, sluggish, and wanting to bask in a deserted Hawaiian beach are typical symptoms.

If SAD or other depressive conditions hamper your quality of life, please visit your integrative physician, who can design a dietary and nutrient protocol for your situation. Depression can become a very real, debilitative situation that demands medical or other professional attention.

For most of us, optimal mood begins with the right foods. These mood-boosting foods can subtly but powerfully brighten your outlook, reduce stress, and boost feel-good hormones to help you not only cope but thrive during the hectic holiday season and beyond: 

  1. Omega-3-rich foods. Among their numerous benefits, omega-3 fatty acids positively affect mood, and a meta-analysis found they could even treat depressive disorders. I’m a big fan of fish oil for therapeutic omega-3 amounts, and you can get those same fatty acids in wild-caught fish, flaxseed and chia seeds and walnuts. 
  2. Higher-protein foods. Sure, carbs can potentially elevate your feel-good hormone serotonin, but you’ll pay the price later. Ever eaten a big bowl of pasta and crashed about an hour later? A vicious cycle of craving and hunger ensues. Studies show you’re twice as likely to choose less-healthy comfort foods when you feel low. Protein-rich foods like wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef and even quinoa, on the other hand, steady blood sugar levels for consistent mood and energy levels. 
  3. Dark chocolate. A very recent study found cocoa polyphenols enhance a positive mood. Dark chocolate (70 percent or higher cacao) provides those and other benefits. One study with healthy overweight or obese women food found polyphenol-rich dark chocolate improves glucose metabolism and cardiovascular health. Dark chocolate also triggers feel-good endorphins and reduces your stress hormone cortisol. A little bit goes a long way, so if chocolate is among your weaknesses, break off a serving and give the rest to your coworker or friend. 
  4. Raw nuts. I mentioned walnuts providing mood-enhancing omega-3s. Raw nuts provide other nutrients like tryptophan, a precursor to mood-brightening serotonin. Nuts and seeds are also rich in minerals like zinc, which boosts immunity, and magnesium, which helps you relax. One study found magnesium-deficient mice more prone to depression. There’s more: nuts and seeds provide craving-busting, blood sugar-stabilizing protein, fiber and healthy fats. If you snack, make it nuts and portion them out because they’re very easy to overeat. 
  5. Berries. Organic fresh or frozen berries provide powerful brain-protecting anthocyanins and other antioxidants. One study found blueberries boosted memory and improved mood in older adults. I throw fiber- and nutrient-rich raspberries into my morning protein shake. Berries also make a sweet, satisfying dessert.

Incorporate these five foods and you might soon feel that extra oomph you’ve found missing during the winter months. Your turn: Is there a particular food you find enhances your mood?