Autumn is here and the days are glorious with a golden glow lighting up the sky. The morning air even smells like autumn. The nights are drawing in and soon the winter weather will descend. With the cold creeping in, we all start to snuggle up on the sofa and get comfy. It is that time of year when lots of celebrations and festivities happen. Personally, I adore this time of the year. First Halloween, then bonfire night and then the countdown to Christmas starts – exciting!
What comes with this? Sticky toffee apples, Parkin, warm cider, hotpots, Baileys, mince pies, hot chocolate … the list goes on. All so tempting, this gorgeous array of delights is comforting and makes us feel so good! Sadly, though, they are not healthy and prompt us to pile on the winter pounds that are hard to lose for summer. Along with this, the autumn and winter months can get us quite down in the dumps. Perhaps you are one of the many that gets a dose of the Winter Blues?
Smile, though! These are not things that we cannot deal with. There are always choices and better options. There are foods that are excellent for boosting your moods. Foods that can make you feel good, keeping the waist line slim whilst maintaining a balanced diet. Guess what? You can still have your cake and eat it! It isn’t rocket science. There are just a few tips and tricks to learn, so here is a bit of useful information to help.
Most people during spring/summer are on a more positive note, with the longer days and warmer weather. Looking forward to those holidays by the pool, the gorgeous summer clothes that hit the shops. We are motivated to exercise more and get outside. This all contributes to the feel good factor. With all this excitement going on your body doesn’t notice one crucial change to your lifestyle; your diet.
By wanting to shed the pounds for the warmer weather, people tend to cut down on carbohydrates and may even eliminate them, with an increase in protein being the leaner option. This is all good stuff and great for leading a healthy life but it does have its side effects. Following a low-carb diet for long periods of time can have quite a negative impact on your mood. The high levels of protein can suppress the levels of serotonin that gets to your brain. Amino acids found in protein compete with tryptophan, the amino acid which is converted into serotonin. In turn, your overall mood is lowered.
So with all the summer buzz behind us, the feel good factor has dwindled away with the prospect of the dark and colder months, what is left are the low serotonin levels and the body’s craving to feel good. It’s no secret that food makes us feel amazing. Why else would we crave the large piece of chocolate fudge cake and the latte when we need a pick-me-up? That packet of luxury biscuits lurking at the back of the kitchen cupboard quietly calling your name after an argument? The ginger nuts that you dunk in a sweet cuppa tea when you have had a bad day?
They all make you feel good, right? There is a reason that we turn to comfort foods when were are stressed or low. It is proven that certain foods can alter your brain’s chemistry, in turn making us feel happy. Unfortunately, we all reach for the wrong foods, usually the sugary and starchy variety. High carbohydrate foods allow the brain to be flooded with tryptophan, giving us a huge boost of Serotonin. The serotonin is a neurotransmitter that curbs cravings, helps us sleep and puts you in a great mood!
There are lots of really good carbs that are great for this job role. Introducing some of these delicious foods whilst reducing your fat and protein intake can help in all areas, keeping you healthy and happy. Balance appears to be the key once again. What we need to understand is that our body’s needs do change with the seasons and adapt to different environments. It is instinct to go for more comforting and filling foods during autumn and winter, ensuring the body gets enough energy to keep us warm. Done correctly, we can still follow our winter cycle, stay happy and not put on any weight.
So what should we eat? Believe it or not, all the foods perfect for our body’s needs at this time of the year are all in season. Lots of berries, dark green vegetables, red peppers and tomatoes are a good starting point, being high in vitamin C. Great for making neurotransmitters that affect your mind and mood, vitamin C is definitely a positive intake during the colder months.
There are plenty of places to go berry picking at this time of the year, a great way to get out and about in the fresh air. Blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries are in plentiful supply, and are gorgeous when teamed up with Bramley apples. Apple and berry crumble is a great, comforting treat to tuck into at the end of the day, especially when served with some Greek Yoghurt and a drizzle of honey. Add some of these lovely berries to your breakfast bowl of warm porridge, serve alongside some healthy pancakes; any excuse to get them into your diet!
Introducing some dark green vegetables like savoy cabbage, broccoli and sprouts is another positive step. This not only increases your vitamin C levels but is great for iron. Fill your plates with lots of winter vegetables and notice how good you start to feel. Your energy will increase and your skin will thank you for it. Increasing your intake of omega-3 has been proven to level out your moods. Fish can be associated with the warmer seasons, served with salads and cooked on BBQ’s, but they also suit the colder months. Marinade salmon with chillies and honey, wrapped in foil to bake in the oven … warm and fiery. Mackerel and sardines are other great sources of omega-3. They may not be a popular choice, but give them a try! If the fishy way isn’t for you, don’t fret – Omega-3 is available in capsules to get the recommended dose that you need.
All the traditional dishes associated with the winter months are great at serving you the nutrition you need to keep you energised, warm and happy. Lots of stews, hotpots and soups. Great comfort foods. A few slices of rye bread to mop up the gravy or dip in your soup is a tasty option. Don’t be afraid to add some red meat; its benefits have been knocked down over the years but one great fact remains … it is an amazing source of iron for the body! It has another great trait as well. Not only does it provide iron, but the iron contained in the meat called heme helps the body to absorb the iron from plants consumed with it. Team up your winter greens with some beef stew and you are on the road to success!
A few goodies that are famous at this time of the year prove to be excellent for fending of the Winter Blues and keeping us cosy. Maybe this is why they are famous! Jacket potatoes, pumpkins, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, leeks and apples. Add them to your dishes. There are so many different recipes for the use of pumpkins … soups, pies, cakes, pureed and added to your morning porridge. They are not given the chance to shine and share their health benefits. Dissected and carved in to Halloween lanterns, the edible bits are discarded. No more! Give the Pumpkin a chance.
Leek and potato soup was one of my favourites as a little girl. It might be the fact that my Mum makes it so tasty that it puts a smile on my face, but it is still a great mood boosting dish. Experiment with your cooking; see what makes you smile. Add a few of the suggestions above to your dishes and surprise yourself. With so many free healthy recipes available on the world wide web, have a Google to see what comes up. Butternut squash and carrot mash might be an option as a new topping for your Shepherd’s Pie instead of lacing it with cheese. Try swapping your flour for spelt flour so you can make the famous pumpkin loaf that you make every year. Use organic dark chocolate to cover the apples instead of a sticky sugary coating. The kids will still love it and their bodies will, too.
With a little know-how and some wise choices, you can still enjoy this time of the year and tuck into your favourites. With healthier options, there will be room to enjoy a mince pie and a glass of Baileys at Christmas … Well, that’s my plan!
Words by Diane Eliza Maccabe