Bye to 2016 and the winter blues

Happy 2017!  I hope everyone had a healthy and happy new years celebration.  I was going to write a post about making new years resolutions, but this year I decided to not make any new years resolutions. I decided not to try to make any specific goals for the next year for two reasons: 1.  I think it’s easier to work on short-term goals, without using the calendar year as motivation 2.  Northeastern winters don’t exactly scream “LET’S GET MOTIVATED!” to me.  Instead, today I’m sharing some tips about improving your mood during these cold months.  I decided to share some things that have helped me stay happy and sane during winter because I’ve noticed that every year I start to feel less like my usual upbeat self as soon as November/December rolls around.  While I don’t personally suffer from full-blown seasonal affective disorder (SAD, so aptly abbreviated), it’s always a good idea to consult a mental health professional if you feel your mood going seriously sour during any time of the year.  If you feel like you just need an extra happiness boost during the winter, here are some things that have helped me.

My Winter Mood-Improving Habits

  1. Get outside!

Unless you live close to the equator, your skin gets less exposure to sunlight during the winter (in the northern hemisphere).  Sunlight is important because it’s a major source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D has effects on the hypothalamus which regulates sleep, hunger, and other factors that influence mood.

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These ducks have the right idea, although I didn’t take a dip into the frigid water, I did take this photo on a chilly winter walk

Another reason to get outside is just to enjoy the outdoors.  Although being outside during the winter requires some extra layers, being amongst nature has so many benefits, both for the mind and body.  Try going for a walk outside a few times a week (for the most benefits, aim for mid-day, especially when it’s sunny out).  If you’re feeling more adventurous, go ice-skating, skiing, or snow-shoeing if you live in a snowy climate.

2.  Eat (healthy) carbs!

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a toasted whole-grain bagel with a healthy fat, such as melted natural peanut butter makes for a deliciously warming winter breakfast

Complex carbs can health boost serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that influences mood.  I feel best when I stick to minimally processed whole grains and avoid white flour. Examples of complex carbs include sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grains and 100% whole grain breads.  Paying attention to portion size is important.  It’s easy to over-do pasta, bread, and rice, especially because these foods can be so comforting.

3. Exercise

I love moving all year round!  Exercise always puts me in a good mood. If you can’t exercise outside, indoors is just as good.  I try to exercise daily for 30-60 minutes, or at least most days.  New to exercise?  Try to find something that you enjoy and that you’re willing to commit to.  Walking, running, yoga, weightlifting all count.

4. Sleep, but not too much

It’s so tempting to sleep more during the winter and go into “hibernation mode”, but I’ve found that (for me) this makes me feel lazy which then affects my mood.  Instead of staying in bed all day, try to get moving and accomplish one productive thing a day.  Oversleeping can be a symptom of depression, so if you find yourself preferring to stay in bed for an excessive amount of time and you also feel symptoms of hopelessness and apathy, it’s important to talk to someone.

5.  Participate in life

Sometimes during winter, I feel like hibernating and going into my shell, but I’ve noticed that this makes me feel down and withdrawn.  Find an engaging hobby that will keep your mind active.  Social support is also vitally important, so make some time for friends and family.

These are just some simple things that have helped me.  I hope you feel amazing today and every day of this winter season 🙂

Summer Beet and Corn Salad

One great thing about summer is the abundance of fresh fruits and veggies that are available. Whether you get your produce from a farm stand, supermarket, or your own backyard, summer eating should be colorful and full of nutrition. Here’s a simple summer recipe for beet and corn salad, which can be eaten on its own, or as a side dish. If you’re heading to a barbecue, consider preparing a dish like this to impress your hosts and other dinner guests!

Simple Summer Beet and Corn Salad (serves 3-4)

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Ingredients:

  • 1 large beet, or 2-3 medium sized beets (greens removed)
  • 1/2 cup sliced onion
  • 3/4 cup corn
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • Boil water
  • As you’re waiting, remove outer layer from the beets using a vegetable peeler
  • If the beets are large, cut in half
  • Boil the beets for about 25 minutes (or until soft)
  • Remove corn from the cob, or if you’re not using fresh corn, measure 3/4 cup of corn and steam in the microwave
  • In a saucepan, heat the 1/2 cup sliced onion on low heat
  • Drain the beets when they’re finished cooking, and drain whatever excess water remains from the corn.  Remove the onion from the pan when it is lightly browned.
  • Combine the beets, corn, and onion, and add olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Mix well with a spoon.
  • Refrigerate and enjoy when cooled

 

-Jess

How To Get Your Fruit Fix On

Summer is almost here (well, it’s almost a month away so that counts, right?) and summer is peak fruit season. Consuming at least two or more servings of fruit a day provides you with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and a healthy source of carbohydrates, but many people are so used to eating cereal or eggs for breakfast, and having cake or cookies for dessert, when fruit would be a healthier option.

Depending on where you live, different types and varieties of fruit may be in season during the summer, however, in most supermarkets and health food stores you can find fruit staples like oranges, bananas, apples, pears, and typically berries like strawberries and blueberries. If you’re lucky, you might also find mangos, papayas, and kiwis. During the summer months in the northeast, plums, peaches, and nectarines are all in season along with several different varieties of melons.

When thinking about ways to eat fruit, think out of the box! Fruit can be puréed and used in place of oil or eggs in muffin batter, juiced or blended into a smoothie, or added to accent a savory dish! Here are some other ways to enjoy fruit while getting a variety of vitamins and other nutrients.

 

Deconstructed Fruit Salads

Arrange fruit (and nuts, for a source of protein and healthy fats) on a plate and have a feast for your mouth and eyes. Children may especially be fond of these dishes due to the shapes and colors. For a fun activity, ask kids to describe the flavor and texture of each different type of fruit.

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Nutella-like spread, or similar nut butter pairs well with apples and bananas!

Nutella-like spread, or similar nut butter pairs well with apples and bananas!

Citrus fruit salad is not only fun to eat but visually appealing as well!

Citrus fruit salad is not only fun to eat but visually appealing as well!

 

Pair sliced fruit along with a whole grain product, like a berry-oat muffin, oatmeal, or whole-grain cereal.

Pair sliced fruit along with a whole grain product, like a berry-oat muffin, oatmeal, or whole-grain cereal.

 

Smoothies & Juices

For smoothies, use a banana, soy yogurt, or low-fat yogurt, along with any other fruit you enjoy to create a quick yet filling breakfast or snack!

For juices, sneak in some veggies, like carrots or beets, in with your fruit for an extra-nutritious beverage!


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Add to Savory Dishes

Try adding apples, citrus fruits, or mangoes to rice dishes, salads, or meals involving beans. I’ve found that fruit goes well with asian-inspired meals, especially with teriyaki sauce.

Kale salad with oranges, topped with pear dressing makes a vitamin A and vitamin C-rich meal.

Kale salad with oranges, topped with pear dressing makes a vitamin A and vitamin C-rich meal.

Sliced mango added to a bean salad topped with various veggies and teriyaki sauce is one idea for a fruit-infused main course

Sliced mango added to a bean salad topped with various veggies and teriyaki sauce is one idea for a fruit-infused main course

For a crunchy meal, shred jicama (a root vegetable) or prepare brown rice, and add oranges, kale, bell pepper, and top with hot sauce for a variety of flavors and textures!

For a crunchy meal, shred jicama (a root vegetable) or prepare brown rice, and add oranges, kale, bell pepper, and top with hot sauce for a variety of flavors and textures!

 

Get creative with fruit and always try new foods, new dishes, and experiment in the kitchen! If you enjoyed the pictures in this post, feel free to follow me on instagram @vitaminvalentine for even more creative visuals of healthy food and recipes!

-Jess