How to overcome the winter blues

by team nuut

Embrace the chill with plant-based protein powder and simple daily changes.

It's thought the winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), affects around 2 million people in the UK and more than 12 million people across northern Europe who suffer every winter from its main symptoms:

• Depression and anxiety

• Poor sleep and insomnia

• Fatigue and lethargy

• Overeating

• Sluggishness and irritability

• Feeling flat and unsociable

While SAD is rare in warmer countries, a large number of Australians report feeling flat and lethargic in winter. For many of us, nothing beats the blues like a big bowl of deliciousness and cold winter days can see us hankering for food of the comfort variety – stews, curries, pastas and pies.

But with studies revealing a strong relationship between diet and mental health, being aware of what you put on your plate has never been more important.

Here are some ways to banish the winter blues and eat your way out from under the blankets so you can feel your very best.

Good Mood Food

Serotonin, your mood regulator, is made in the brain from tryptophan, an amino acid found in most high-protein foods. Studies also show that these amino acids produce key neurotransmitters in preventing and treating anxiety, so consuming a diet based mainly on vegetables, fruit, and lean proteins can help you avoid the blues and elevate your mood.

Making protein-rich foods the focal point of your diet also means you are less likely to reach for sugar-laden snacks, which can compromise your physical and mental health. Researchers exploring the correlation between sugar and depression believe a protein called BDNF plays a pivotal role in the maintenance and growth of the brain’s nerve cells. Sugar quashes the activity of BDNF, which those who suffer depression typically have low levels of, so ramping up your protein intake can keep your sweet cravings under control while stabilising your blood sugar.

Incorporating the best vegan protein powders into you daily regime is an effective snacking strategy for smashing cravings between meals. Simply combine plant-based protein powder with water or plant-based milk, shake and sip. Increase its protein quota by 11% with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt! It also adds a satisfying creaminess to your nuut.

Eat (Good) Carbs

Carbohydrates are often blamed for weight gain – which of course creamy carbonara, coconut-milk rich curries, hamburgers and garlic bread can all be guilty of!

However, not all carbs are bad guys. When we don’t consume enough good carbohydrates, our brains are unable to regulate serotonin, which elevates mood and helps suppress your appetite (it's the reason why we can feel sluggish and flat on a low-carb diet). When serotonin is made and becomes active in your brain, it also affect your appetite, making you feel full before your stomach actually is.

Because a high-protein diet provides tryptophan (which produces serotonin), it's important to eat carbohydrates that allow it to be properly absorbed by your body. Add sweet potatoes, rolled oats, beans, broccoli, spinach, zucchini, lentils and quinoa to your plate to increase serotonin. They take longer to digest, too, which prevents sudden spikes in blood sugar that can play havoc with your moods.

Add some carbs to your vegan protein powder like a scoop of oats, almonds or a frozen banana. For nuut’s favourite recipes, head to the journal and get shaking.

Go Mediterranean-Style

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the traditional cuisines of Greece, Italy and other countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It is a style of eating that avoids fried and processed foods and focuses on fish, seafood and plant-based foods, like whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. Dairy and poultry are included, but only in moderation and red meat and sweets are only eaten occasionally. Olive oil is the primary source of added fat for its monounsaturated fat, which lowers total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (or "bad") cholesterol levels.

Take Your Tablets

The exact cause of SAD is unknown, although it is believed to be linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter days of the year. Sunlight can affect some of the brain's chemicals and hormones; for example, light stimulates the hypothalamus, which controls mood, appetite and sleep. So for those with SAD, a lack of sunlight is thought to affect the production of the hormones melatonin and serotonin and the body's circadian rhythm (the body's internal clock, which regulates several biological processes over 24 hours).

Those living in cold climates most of the year without daily sunlight can find themselves deficient in vitamin D, which regulates mood, maintains optimum blood sugar levels and boosts the immune system. One study found that when adults with the winter blues were given 400-800 units of vitamin D3 a day, their mood levels soared substantially!

Omega-3 supplements are also very beneficial and one of the reasons that Iceland, one of the northernmost nations in the world, has the lowest rates of winter blues. Icelanders put it down to their high ocean fish and fish oil consumption, which includes salmon, cod, and sardines. Fish oil supplements and some plant-based foods like walnuts also contain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which research on other mood disorders suggests have an antidepressant effect by improving the functioning of cells in the brain and blood. They can also help fight inflammation in the body, decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, and lower the risk of stroke and heart failure. Stock up!

The best vegan protein powders, like nuut ;) are fortified with vitamins and minerals including 100% certified organic pea protein, iodine, vitamins k, a, b-12, calcium, iron, magnesium, macadamia, protein, thiamin, and riboflavin that can help beat the blues! Find out what’s in your daily nuut plant-based protein powder now and sip one every day this winter.

Rug-Up and Lace-Up

Embracing some sweat-breaking activity several times a week is a great way to ramp up endorphins (those natural cannabis-like brain chemicals that can elevate your well-being). It has also been shown to reduce depressive mood symptoms by:

Clearing your mind so you can shift from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression and anxiety

Building confidence when meeting exercise challenges.

Connecting with others by exercising with a friend or group. It's a great way to build motivation, too.

It may even be possible to outrun depression! A study by JAMA Psychiatry discovered a 26% decrease in odds of becoming depressed for each major increase in objectively measured physical activity. If you naturally don't lean to exercise, don't despair. This study also revealed that any kind of movement can add up to keeping depression at bay. Even regular brisk walks are enough to see the benefits. Aim to do at least 15 minutes a day of higher-intensity exercise, like running, or at least an hour of lower-intensity exercise, such as walking or housework. Moving your body gently throughout the day like walking, stretching, taking the stairs, and doing the dishes can help lift you out of the winter doldrums.

Elevate your work out with a post shake made of plant-based protein powder. Protein is important to consume after a workout, as during exercise you are effectively breaking down your muscles. The best vegan protein powder will help speed up muscle repair and glycogen replacement, which leads to faster recovery. A nuut vegan-based protein powder with water is most effective sipped in a 20-minute window following exercise as protein synthesis, your body’s process of building new muscle, and muscle glycogen uptake is most effective during this time.

Embrace The Light

The amount of sunlight we are exposed to, especially during the cold, wet winter months is limited. Why not swap over your light bulbs. Full-spectrum light bulbs differ from those in your lamps and light fixtures as they are designed to emit a natural daylight-balanced colour temperature of 5500K. Producing a bright, crisp light, they save energy, reduce eyestrain and fatigue, and your indoor plants just love them!

Ever used a light box? It can help! The light it produces simulates the sunlight and is said to improve SAD by encouraging your brain to reduce the production of melatonin (a hormone that makes you sleepy) and increase the production of serotonin. Start with 30 minutes of light exposure every morning when you wake. You should start to feel the benefits in a few days, and the symptoms should improve within two weeks.

Take The Plunge

"I am sure there are things that can't be cured by a good bath, but I can't think of one," wrote the poet and writer Sylvia Plath in The Bell Jar. Plath, who suffered with depression, was onto something, with studies showing that taking regular afternoon baths was associated with a moderate but persistent lift in mood among people with depression.

Another study published in BMC Psychiatry revealed that a daily hot bath could help treat depression's symptoms better than exercise! The bath's temperature should run around 107 degrees, which is hot but not unbearable! Add soaking salts like magnesium which are great for physical relaxation, or Epsom that does wonders for soothing sore muscles, reducing inflammation and skin detoxification. A warm bath can also help improve your sleep, so take the plunge with scented candles and a cup of sleep-inducing tea, like magnolia, chamomile, lavender or valerian. Or heat up some oat milk and add a sachet of nuut plant-based protein powder and reap all the benefits - even whilst you sleep.

A happy positive day for you is just around the corner, no matter how low the temperature.