November seems to be one of those months that people just want to skip over. After the haunted houses from Halloween dissipate, we see Christmas decorations popping up on every house and store in the neighborhood. November’s lack of holidays makes it difficult to compete with October’s crisp autumn air and December’s holiday cheer. November’s probably best known for daylight savings time. I’m always grateful for that extra hour of sleep when the clocks change, but leaving work at the end of the day when it’s already dark out can be quite depressing. In fact, November is generally a pretty down and gloomy time for most. Interestingly, our moods are most affected in this month when Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving and the launch of the holiday season is looming.
Though we can’t invent a holiday to raise November in the rankings, we can consider a few changes to our diet that may help improve mood in this slump of a month. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Am I eating the right fats?
At Motive Nutrition, we talk about healthy fats a lot. Because in addition to their heart health benefits, anti-inflammatory actions, and delicious taste, omega-3 fats have been shown to positively impact mood. Research suggests that two types of omega-3s, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), have mood boosting qualities. By acting on certain areas of the brain, these fatty acids have been described to have anti-depressant properties. Incorporate 2 servings of fatty fish into your weekly meal planning to keep your irritability at an ultimate low. Try salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, or sardines.
Am I getting enough Selenium in my diet?
I know you’re probably thinking, what is selenium and how am I supposed to know if I’m getting enough? Selenium is a trace mineral that not only improves mood, but also supports immune function and acts as an important antioxidant. The selenium content of food varies depending on the soil it grows in, so knowing how much you’re getting from food can be tricky. The solution? Enjoy one brazil nut each day. One of these nutty treats is enough to meet the recommended requirements for adults and is sure to help get you out of a slump. Quick tip: Store brazil nuts in an airtight container in the fridge to keep them fresh for longer.
Am I feeding my “second brain”?
Did you know that human beings have more than one brain? The “second brain”, more formally known as the enteric nervous system, directly controls the digestive system. We’re beginning to better understand the relationship between digestion, mood, and health and how your state of mind is closely connected to your gut. This explains why you might feel “butterflies” in your stomach when you’re nervous.
So how should you feed your “second brain” to best support your mood? With fermented foods. Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and miso, will introduce healthy bacteria into your digestive system. A healthy digestive system leads to a better gut-brain connection, ultimately impacting your mental health. Try including one fermented food into your daily, balanced diet to reap the benefits.
Am I hydrating well?
Not drinking enough or being dehydrated can cause brain-fog and irritability and contributes to anxiety and poor concentration. Your choice of fluids is often just as important as the quantity you’re drinking. Feeling overly anxious, depressed, or sleep-deprived? It’s likely you’re guzzling too much of an infamous mood-busting compound – caffeine.
When it comes to your beverage choices, it’s best to reach for water first. Spruce up your water with citrus fruits, berries, cucumber slices, or fresh herbs. As the winter breeze sets in, steep a cup of green tea to benefit from the stress-reducing qualities of the amino acid, theanine. It’s found in almost all green teas and has been proven to calm the mind, improving your mood from within.
The relationship between our eating habits and brain function has been getting a lot of attention recently. The MIND study looked at the effect of a specific plant-based dietary pattern with limited intake of animal and high saturated fat foods on cognitive function. This study found that participants who adhered to the diet scored 7 years younger than their chronological age on cognitive tests. Even though the MIND study doesn’t mention mood specifically, it provides interesting insight on exactly how powerful our nutritional habits can be.
With the holidays right around the corner, there’s lots to look forward to and smile about. So as you prepare for snowflakes and sleigh rides, keep those mood-boosting foods in mind to help get you through these last dreary November days.
Written by Katie Cohen-Olivenstein RD