- Some foods can help regulate our mood as the seasons change, according to nutritionist Natalie Olsen.
- Anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce inflammation, which is linked to seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
- Foods high in fiber can improve gut health, which produce “happy” hormones in the body, Olsen said.
The changing seasons can impact our body and mind in ways that feel out of our control. We rely on our biological clock to regulate our mood, and less overall sunlight can throw that natural rhythm off kilter.
For some, that can result in a form of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
But according to nutritionist Natalie Olsen, certain additions to our diet that can help us feel better during shorter, colder, darker days.
Olsen told Insider that eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like fish and nuts as well as high-fiber foods can help bring down inflammation in the body and help us feel better overall.
Load up omega-3s by eating fatty fish
Foods with anti-inflammatory properties are key as the seasons change, Olsen said. Stress and negative feelings can drive up inflammation in the body, she said, creating a vicious cycle.
Above all, she recommends foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These are found in abundance in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and herring.
Try to get two servings per week, Olsen said.
If you don’t eat fish, add nuts to your meals
Olsen said her second best recommendation for omega-3-rich foods is to eat nuts and seeds.
Walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds are all great sources of omega-3s to help reduce inflammation.
High-fiber foods will help your body produce ‘happy’ hormones
Olsen said foods high in fiber like beans and oats can also provide great anti-inflammatory properties. Soluble fiber, she said, dissolves into water creating a gel-like substance which attaches to toxins in the body that can drive up inflammation and cholesterol.
Fiber also feeds the bacteria in our gut, creating a healthy microbiome, she said. Our gut produces “happy” hormones like serotonin, dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), she said, which are important for regulating our mood.
“Our gut health, keeping that healthy, is one of the best foundational things we can do to move through the seasons in a way that feels really good to us,” she said.
Replace added sugar with fruit
Olsen said to especially pay attention to added sugar as the seasons change, because it can lead to blood sugar crashes as well as drive up inflammation in the body.
Look out for “added sugar” on nutrition labels, she said. 15 grams of added sugar, Olsen said, is going to spike your blood sugar and cause inflammation more than 15 grams of sugar from fruit. She said fruit also contains vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which make it much better for you than foods with mostly added sugar.
Choose lean, organic meat to avoid mood-impacting chemicals
Most people who eat meat are usually getting enough daily protein, Olsen said. The problem comes, she said, when people eat mostly processed, higher-fat meats.
She said meats with high saturated fat, hormones, and antibiotics can also produce inflammation throughout the body and affect your mood. Organic, grass-fed, leaner cuts of meat will help you get enough protein to feel full and have energy as well as reduce the amount of mood-impacting chemicals in your body. She said a few processed foods here and there won’t hurt you though.
“As cliché as it is, moderation is key. It doesn’t mean you can’t ever go out and have a hamburger and fries with your friends or your family, but I think it’s just about what are you doing majority of the time,” she said.