During the winter months, some people may experience an overall lack of energy, depression and feeling blue. This feeling may be due to seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. Symptoms come and go at about the same time each year. Most people with SAD start to have symptoms in September or October and feel better by April or May. SAD affects 25 million Americans, most commonly women. Although much research has been done, it’s not completely understood why it happens. While SAD is multifaceted, researchers believe it has to do with the lack of light during the winter months, which results in our bodies producing lower levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a mood-enhancing chemical that regulates our overall feeling of well-being, including appetite.

Depression is one of many symptoms associated with SAD and can range from mild to severe. If you feel you may be experiencing SAD, see a doctor to help with appropriate therapies.

In general, there are a few ways we can help boost our serotonin level. The obvious one is through increasing time spent in the sunshine (when available) or spending time in brightly lit indoor rooms. Diet and exercise can also help. Exercise reduces levels of stress hormones and helps release the feel-good endorphins that boost your mood. If you don’t currently exercise, talk with your doctor to find out what type of exercise program is suitable for you.

Eating a balanced, nutritious diet is recommended for everyone. Choosing a variety of nutrient-rich foods from all the food groups is important. USDA’s MyPlate reminds us to eat plenty of whole grains, like brown rice. Here’s a tip:

  • Cook a large batch of brown rice, then properly cool and portion it into freezer bags for future meals.
  • Make half your plate brightly colored fruits and vegetables which are full of nutrients and antioxidants.
  • Choose low-fat or non-fat dairy and don’t forget to add lean protein at each meal.
  • Try to aim for 3 to 6 ounces of lean protein per day. 

People who struggle with depression and anxiety tend to be deficient in certain nutrients. A 2005 study found that depressed women in their childbearing years tend to be deficient in nutrients like folate, vitamin B-12, iron, zinc and selenium. Lean beef is an excellent source of protein, zinc, B-12 and selenium. It’s also the number-one food source for iron. When deciding on a protein for your meal, be sure to remember a 3-ounce serving of lean beef (about 150 calories) provides 10 essential nutrients your body needs to stay healthy and active. Now that is a nutrient-rich food you can feel good about feeding your family!

Grilled Steak and Asian Noodle Salad Recipe

March is National Nutrition Month®.  This Grilled Steak and Asian Noodle Salad recipe provides a variety of nutrients with very few calories. Serve with a side of dairy and fruit for dessert and you are one step closer to a balanced diet.