Now that the cold weather is officially upon us, I like to somewhat switch up my meal ideas in favor of heartier, more comforting options. I’ve had a great response to a lecture I presented a few weeks ago entitled “Natural Ways to Beat the Holiday Blues,” – especially the nutrient portion of the lecture – so I thought I’d share some super easy, time-efficient options that offer copious amounts of brain-friendly nutrients during these dreary winter months.
Research has found that mood and depression can be greatly associated with deficiencies in important nutrients such as vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, folic acid, and other “b” vitamins such as vitamin B12. While vitamin D is one of the few nutrients I actually recommend supplementing with (vitamin D is not abundantly found in our food sources), I first and foremost recommend obtaining our nutrient sources from whole, unprocessed food as much as possible. Our bodies can easily digest nutrients from food sources, and nature already made them up in the correct forms and amounts!
Aside from nutrient deficiencies, newer research has also suggested that inflammation in the brain can also play a role in our mood and mental well-being. Inflammation can contribute to fatigue, “brain fog,” and otherwise imbalanced mental clarity. Unfortunately, many hallmarks of the American diet and culture contribute to inflammation – things such as sugar, stress, toxins from pesticides and other chemicals, and even heavy metal contamination can all play a role in both physical and mental health. Many of us are unaware just how much exposure we experience through unassuming culprits such as wiring in our house, dental fillings, cleaners, and processed foods (sometimes even disguised as “health” food!). It is impossible to avoid these things entirely. However, we can reduce exposure as much as possible and consume nutrients that help to fight against oxidative stress and cellular breakdown.
I like inflammatory-reducing nutrients for many reasons, and now brain health can be added to that list, as well. One of my favorite antiflammatory foods is turmeric, an ancient spice known for its golden color and distinct taste.
Listed below are a few meal and drink options that almost don’t even require a recipe and are abundant in the nutrients that promote mental well-being. Best of all, they don’t require a whole lot of time or even great skills in the kitchen – the recipes can be altered to your taste and don’t have to be followed exactly. Remember, food sources are the easiest, most cost-effective way for our bodies to absorb nutrients. I only recommend supplementing if lab tests show a low amount in blood levels (at which point your doctor and/or pharmacist will recommend a suitable supplement), have a physical condition that limits your absorption of nutrients or requires extra nutrients (such as pregnancy), or if you’re unable to consume a well-balanced diet.
Roasted Wild-Caught Salmon
Salmon is one the most abundant sources of omega-3 fatty acids available, a nutrient whose deficiency is heavily linked to depression. Salmon also contains other rare and powerful nutrients and is a food I’ve exposed my little ones to from a very early age. I like to cook with wild-caught salmon, as it is void of the pesticides and antibiotics that farm-raised are often exposed to. Fortunately, I’ve been finding that wild-caught salmon is much easier to procure these days. Look for terms such as “Alaskan” salmon or “sockeye.”
Wild-caught salmon filets
Extra virgin olive oil
A dallop of plain, Greek yogurt
Fresh lemon juices
Seasonings to taste (I like salt, pepper, garlic powder, dill, cumin, etc.)
Mix the olive oil, yogurt, lemon juice, and herbs in a bowl and coat salmon. Roast salmon on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 degrees until preferred wellness – I usually cook mine for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Winter Spinach Salad
Dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach are incredibly rich in folic acid, or folate. Aside from a folate deficiency actually causing depression, a diet high in folate has been shown in some studies to help patients respond to their antidepressant better.
Vinaigrette dressing of choice (I like mixing olive oil, salt, fresh lemon juice, and balsamic vinegar)
Mix together all components and drizzle with vinaigrette. Serve immediately.
Grass-fed lamb is particularly high in omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, grass-fed lamb contains about as much protein as it’s steak counterpart, but roughly 5 times more omega-3 fatty acids. Grass-fed meats also have a richer flavor than grain-fed, so this is another easy option that doesn’t require fancy marinades or a slew of spices.
Seasonings such as thyme, garlic, salt, and coriander
Sear the lamb first to lock in the juices, then use a preheated oven to roast. Time is variable, however it is important to not overcook grass-fed meats. The safest way I recommend is periodically checking, then let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving.
This recipe is adapted from rasamalaysia.com. Ginger is also a very powerful antiflammatory, but can be omitted from recipe if not amenable to taste.
4 deboned chicken thighs, skin on
Garlic powder or 2 cloves minced
2 tablespoons honey
Fresh, grated ginger to taste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Turmeric to taste
Salt and pepper
Drizzle oil in a heated skillet. Add all other ingredients to chicken until evenly combined. Cook chicken on both sides in the skillet until they turn a crispy brown. You can also bake the chicken at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes until browned.
Warm Lentil Salad
Lentils are beans that are also very high in folic acid. The addition of tangy goat cheese brings out the flavor and adds a savory taste.
1 cup lentils
Roasted red peppers in jar
1 half medium onion
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Goat cheese to taste
Salt and pepper
Boil lentils in a pot until tender, about 15 minutes. While lentils are cooking, saute the onions with salt, pepper, and garlic. Once browned, remove from heat and add to the cooked and drained lentils. Add rest of ingredients and top with goat cheese.
Raw, unfiltered honey
Fresh grated ginger
A pinch of cinnamon
Simmer all ingredients until well combined. Serve warm.
For more information regarding the winter “blues,” a link to my article can be found here.
I hope you enjoy these recipes!