Cold and dark winters, in combination with stress-inducing holidays, have long been blamed for depressed moods from November to March. But the winter and holiday blues can slip into something more serious, like depression or seasonal affective disorder. In order to successfully deal with either, it's important to understand the difference between fleeting melancholy and more severe unhappiness -- and to know which coping mechanisms are most effective.
A Balanced Diet
There's no scientific evidence linking a balanced diet with improved mental health, but Dr. Gabrielle Melin, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, says that nutrition is important to maintaining overall health. During the winter it can be hard to avoid sugar, refined carbohydrates and caffeine, but a diet high in these substances can interfere with normal sleeping patterns and your body's metabolism. In turn, this can exacerbate feelings of irritability and anxiety.
Maintaining an optimistic outlook during trying times is no easy feat. But Melin says a positive attitude can be instrumental in warding off feelings of helplessness and frustration. This can be particularly hard for those who have been affected by layoffs--all that extra spare time can be a person's worst enemy. But Melin recommends taking a proactive approach to financial problems and surrounding one's self with supportive friends and family.
Melin says that exercise releases the body's natural anti-depression drug: endorphins. These molecules attach to special receptors in the brain and spinal cord to stop pain messages, and act as natural mood enhancers. Still, endorphins aren't triggered until you reach a threshold of intense physical activity, and a doctor can help you determine when this happens on a case-by-case basis. Aside from the natural rush, exercise can reinforce feelings of self-efficacy and self-esteem.
Regular Sleeping Patterns
Wintertime can wreak havoc on your sleeping cycle. Dwindling hours of light, which reach a peak at the winter solstice on Dec. 21, can alter the body's circadian rhythm. Disrupted sleep patterns can lead to irritability and anxiety, which is why it's important to maintain a regular sleep schedule if possible. You might sleep more during the winter, but it's best to do so on a predictable cycle.
Light therapy, which has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of depression, is an alternative for those struggling with seasonal affective disorder. Dr. Michael Terman, a professor at Columbia University and an expert on light therapy, says that mild symptoms can be self-treated--but patients with severe symptoms should consult a physician. The Center for Environmental Therapeutics, where Terman is president, also offers guidelines on the use of light therapy boxes, which are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Scientific research has shown that socializing can improve mental cognition. But a recent 20-year study went further and demonstrated that social networks can have a profound impact on your happiness. In that study, more than 4,700 people were tracked over two decades, and researchers found that social interactions with both cheerful friends and strangers influenced the subject's chances of happiness considerably.
There are antidepressant medications that have been shown to alleviate symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Still, Terman says these should not be the first resort for most patients. Consult a physician about which approaches might work best for you, and whether antidepressants might be effective in concert with other treatments.
If the winter or holiday blues have escalated to the point where you feel overwhelmed or stuck, Melin suggests therapy. "People can learn coping skills, which are not intuitive or obvious," she says. A therapist can help you deal with feelings that arise as the seasons change. This can be particularly helpful for those dealing with financial stresses or emotions brought on by the pressures of making the holiday season perfect for loved ones.
Winter Wonder Foods
by Vicki Salemi
Although winter months are often synonymous with dreaded cold or flu-like symptoms, when it comes to warding off infectious germs nothing reaps more positive health benefits than fueling your diet with nutrients. Rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber, in order to help maintain and strengthen your immune system, certain foods bring truth tothe saying, "You are what you eat."
Blueberries contain anthocyanins and other antioxidant pigments and phytochemicals, which may have a role in reducing the risks of some diseases including cancer. According to Laura Lewis, certified clinical nutritionist and author of 52 Ways to a Healthy You, "One cup per day would be optimal. You cannot over eat these little powerful guys." As for an extra benefit in the winter? Stick them in the freezer and eat them frozen. She adds, "Just go the unsweetened variety if you go frozen." To get some blueberries in your winter diet try a blackberry and blueberry pie.
Blackberry and Blueberry Pie
* 2/3 cup shortening
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 5 tablespoons cold water
* 3/4 cup white sugar
* 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 4 cups fresh blueberries
* 1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries
* 1 tablespoon lemon juice
* 2 tablespoons butter
Cut shortening into 2 cups flour and salt until particles are size of small peas. Sprinkle in water 1 tablespoon at a time until flour is moistened. Gather into a ball, and roll out onto a lightly floured board. Make two rounds. Place one crust in a 9 inch pie dish.
Mix sugar, 1/3 cup flour, and cinnamon. Stir in berries to coat. Turn filling into pastry lined pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice, dot with butter. Cover with top crust; cut slits in the top. Seal and flute.
Bake at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) for 35 to 45 minutes. Cover edges with foil to prevent burning, and remove foil for last 12 minutes of baking.
Nutritional Information per Serving
Calories 437cal Total fat 21g Cholesterol 8mg Sodium 326mg
Carbohydrates 61g Fiber 5g
When this dairy product produced by the bacterial fermentation of milk is eaten, Laura Lewis says the nutritional benefits are all good. "Loaded with probiotics essential to keep you healthy all year long, good bacteria line the intestines warding off 'invaders' and also assists in optimal absorption of nutrients." She recommends one cup daily of the non-fat or low fat varieties. Plus, if it's too plain, feel free to add a scoop of frozen mixed berries.
Filled with health promoting vitamins, minerals and fiber, broccoli is still one of the most nutritional foods packing a punch, especially during winter months when immune systems are low. Low in calories and containing over 150 health promoting phytochemicals such as sulfurophane, known for its cancer protective powers, broccoli certainly is at the top of the healthy foods list. Experts recommend consuming at least one cruciferous vegetable, 1/2 cup such as broccoli on a daily basis. If broccoli by itself doesn't make you hungry, try getting your daily dose with some spicy orange beef and broccoli stir-fry or shrimp with broccoli.
Spicy Orange Beef & Broccoli Stir-fry
* 3 oranges
* 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
* 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
* 1 tablespoon cornstarch
* 1/2 teaspoon sugar
* 3 teaspoons peanut oil or canola oil, divided
* 1 pound beef sirloin, trimmed and sliced against the grain into 1/8-inch-thick slices
* 2 tablespoons minced garlic
* 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
* 6-8 small dried red chiles
* 2 pounds broccoli, cut into small florets (6 cups)
* 1/3 cup water
* 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
* 1/2 cup sliced scallion greens
1. With a small sharp knife or vegetable peeler, carefully pare wide strips of zest from one of the oranges. Cut zest into 1-inch strips and set aside. Squeeze juice from all the oranges into a small bowl (for about 3/4 cup). Add soy sauce, rice wine (or sherry), cornstarch and sugar and stir to combine; set aside.
2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat until almost smoking. Add beef and stir-fry just until no longer pink on the outside, about 1 minute. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.
3. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil to the pan and heat until very hot. Add garlic, ginger, chiles and the reserved orange zest; stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broccoli and water. Cover and steam, stirring occasionally, until the water has evaporated and the broccoli sizzles, about 3 minutes. Add bell pepper and stir-fry for 1 minute more.
4. Stir the reserved orange sauce and pour it into the wok. Bring to a boil, stirring; cook until the sauce has thickened slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Add scallion greens and the reserved beef and toss to coat with sauce; heat through.
Freezing the beef sirloin for 30 minutes makes it easier to cut into very thin slices.
Nutritional Information per Serving
Calories 232 Carbohydrates 22 Fat 8 Saturated fat 2
Mono unsaturated fat 3 Protein 23 Cholesterol 36 Fiber 7 Potassium 941
Shrimp with Broccoli
* 2/3 cup bottled clam juice or reduced-sodium chicken broth
* 1 teaspoon cornstarch
* 1 tablespoon minced garlic, divided
* 3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
* 1/4-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
* 1 pound raw shrimp (21-25 per pound), peeled and deveined (see Ingredient note)
* 1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
* 4 cups broccoli florets
* 2/3 cup water
* 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or parsley
* 1 teaspoon lemon juice
* Freshly ground pepper to taste
* Lemon wedges
1. Combine clam juice (or broth), cornstarch and half the garlic in a small bowl; whisk until smooth. Set aside.
2. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining garlic and crushed red pepper to taste; cook, stirring, until fragrant but not browned, about 30 seconds. Add shrimp and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Saute until the shrimp are pink, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
3. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to the pan. Add broccoli and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add water, cover and cook until the broccoli is crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the shrimp.
4. Add the reserved clam juice mixture to the pan and cook, stirring, over medium-high heat, until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in basil (or parsley) and season with lemon juice and pepper. Add the shrimp and broccoli; heat through. Serve immediately, with lemon wedges.
Ingredient Note: Shrimp are sold by the number needed to make one pound--for example, 21-25 count or 31-40 count--and by more generic size names, such as large or extra large. Size names don't always correspond to the actual count size.To be sure you're getting the size you want, order by the count (or number) per pound.
Nutritional Information per Serving
Calories 178 Carbohydrates 6 Fat 6 Saturated fat 1
Mono unsaturated fat 3 Protein 25 Cholesterol 172 Fiber 2 Potassium 459
Grapefruits and oranges and tangerines, oh my! Molly Morgan, registered dietician and certified dietitian-nutritionist and owner of Creative Nutrition Services, says citrus fruits are some of the healthiest winter foods which help keep you strong. "They provide vitamin C, which your body especially needs a boost of during the winter to keep your immune system up. For example, one grapefruit will provide about 130 percent of your daily vitamin C needs!"
The nutritional composition of winter squash, such as butternut squash, packs the perfect blend of nutrients to help keep winter colds at bay. Molly Morgan explains, "For example, one cup of butternut squash provides about 450 percent of your daily Vitamin A needs. This vitamin is a key player in maintaining a healthy immune system." Plus, she mentions winter squash has vitamin C, iron and calcium as well. A simple way to enjoy winter squash is to scoop out the seeds, bake it at 350 degrees for about forty-five minutes, and sprinkle with a little brown sugar. Get your winter squash fix with some butternut squash risotto .
Butternut Squash Risotto
* 1 Butternut Squash
* 1 Cup Aborio Rice
* 5 Cups Chicken Stock
* 1 Cup Water
* 2 Tablespoons Butter
* 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
* 1 Onion (chopped)
* 2 Cloves Garlic (minced)
* To Ta Salt & Pepper
* 1 teaspoon Ground Sage
* 1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. While the oven is preheating, peel and chop squash into 1 inch pieces. Place pieces in a bowl toss with 1 T of Olive Oil and salt & pepper. Put squash on cookie sheet and place in oven when it's at 450 degrees. Roast for 45 minutes.
After the squash has roasted, take out of oven and let cool. In a medium sauce pan add the chicken stock and water; bring to a simmer.
Add butter and remaining oil to a large sauce pan over medium heat high heat. As butter melts add the chopped onion and minced garlic. Cook onion and garlic for 3 minutes and then add rice to the pot, stirring to coat rice. Cook for additional two minutes.
Add two ladles of hot stock mixture to the pan with the rice. Stir the rice with a wooden spoon. As the liquid evaporates you will know when to add more liquid when you can pull your spoon through the mixture and see the bottom of the pan of at least one second before the rice moves back.
Continue adding the stock and stirring until all the stock has been used. The rice mixture should be creamy and the rice al dente to taste.
Remove mixture from the heat, add the cheese, stir to melt and then fold in the squash and sage. Serve, warm in bowls.
"This superstar dark leafy green is without a doubt one of the healthiest foods you can eat providing more nutrition per unit calorie than almost any other food," says Dr. Ann Kulze, CEO and Founder, Dr. Ann & Just Wellness, and author of Dr. Ann's 10-Step Diet, a simple plan for permanent weight loss and lifelong vitality. Convinced yet? Kale provides seventeen essential nutrients including 100 percent of the RDA for vitamin A and vitamin C in a single serving. She adds, "Kale tops the list of the most potent antioxidant vegetables." The recommendation is at least one cup daily. Stay healthy by adding some sauteed kale or herb stuffed and pan roasted chicken with cider to your dinner.
Basic Sauteed Kale
* 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
* 1-1 1 pounds kale, ribs removed, coarsely chopped (see Tip)
* 1/2 cup water
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
* 2-3 teaspoons sherry vinegar or red-wine vinegar
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add kale and cook, tossing with two large spoons, until bright green, about 1 minute. Add water, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Push kale to one side, add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil to the empty side and cook garlic and crushed red pepper in it until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in vinegar to taste and salt.
Tip: A 1- to 1 1/2-pound bunch of kale yields 16 to 24 cups of chopped leaves. When preparing kale for these recipes, remove the tough ribs, chop or tear the kale as directed, then wash it—allowing some water to cling to the leaves. The moisture helps steam the kale during the first stages of cooking.
Nutritional Information per Serving
Calories 80 Carbohydrates 7 Fat 5 Saturated fat 1
Mono unsaturated fat 4 Protein 2 Cholesterol 0 Fiber 1 Potassium 0
Herb Stuffed and Pan Roasted Chicken with Cider
* 1/2 cup parsley leaves
* 1/4 cup marjoram or oregano leaves
* 3 clove garlic, finely minced
* Zest of 1 lemon
* 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
* 4 (7-ounce) chicken breasts, skin-on*
* Kosher salt and pepper
* 4 tablespoon canola oil
* 4 tablespoon butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
* 2 sprig thyme
* 6 ounce smoked bacon, 1/4-inch dice, rendered with fat reserved
* 1 large shallot, julienned
* 6 cup curly leaf kale, torn into 2-inch pieces
* 2/3 cup apple cider
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a food processor, combine the parsley, marjoram, garlic, lemon zest and olive oil, pulse until coarsely blended. Insert a finger under the skin of the chicken and loosen a small space for the stuffing. Spoon a Tablespoon of the stuffing under the skin of each breast and smooth it to evenly cover. You should be able to see herbs under most of the skin. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
Heat the canola oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the chicken, skin side down. Saute for 8 minutes, checking frequently for good color on the skin. Let chicken cook for 2 to 3 minutes more on the skin side to gain good color, then add the butter and thyme to the pan. Transfer the chicken to a baking dish, baste with the butter. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs
Return the skillet to the heat, add the bacon, shallots and bacon fat. Cook the shallots until translucent. Add the kale and sauté for 3 minutes to wilt. Deglaze with the cider, increase the heat and cover for 5 minutes. Remove the cover and reduce liquid by half. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with the chicken.
Round Out the Meal with a bowl of steamed brown rice.
Substitute spinach for the kale.
*Chef Comfort prefers the airline cut, which is a skin-on chicken breast, removed from the breast bone, with the first bone of the wing left attached. Ask your butcher to prepare this cut for you or you can fabricate it yourself by allowing your boning knife to follow the keelbone and the breast bone, cut through the wishbone and work the wing joint loose, leaving the wing attached. Remove the lower wing joint and tip. Remove the tenderloin from the back of the breast and any sinew or excess skin as well.
Pumpkin is often overlooked for its nutritional component but it packs a punch when it comes to a convenient, inexpensive food bolstered by nutrients. Dr. Kulze explains, "Low in calories, high in fiber and providing the most concentrated package of disease-busting carotenoids known, canned pumpkin is an underutilized superstar food." Carotenoids play a central role in the health of your heart, eyes, skin and the immune system, which makes this food particularly effective in the winter. Learn to love pumpkin with some black cat pumpkin spice bread.
Black Cat Pumpkin Spice Bread
* 3 cups flour
* 3/4 tsp salt
* 2 tsp baking soda
* 2 tsp ground cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
* 1/4 tsp cloves
* 1/4 tsp allspice
* 1 small can solid-pack pumpkin (15 oz)
* 1 cup vegetable oil
* 2 1/2 cups sugar
* 4 eggs
* 2 pats butter (for greasing pan)
Preheat oven to 350, and place rack in center of oven.
Sift together the flour & spices in a medium bowl.
In a second, larger mixing bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, oil, sugar & eggs.
Add the flour mixture, to the egg mixture, stirring until well combined.
Divide the batter in half between the 2 greased loaf pans.
Bake about 50-60 minutes until a wooden pick inserted into center of loaf comes out clean.
Cool in the pans, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.
From the Black Cat Cafe & Bakery, Sharon Springs, NY
An apple a day keeps the doctor away -- especially during the long winter months. According to David Grotto, RD, LDN, and author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life, when eating an apple it's important to eat every part of it except the core. "Almost half of the vitamin C content is just underneath the skin. Apples are rich in fiber, a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber." One medium apple or half a cup a day is the recommended serving.
Heart Healthy Soup
Nothing says lovin' on a cold winter day more than a warm bowl of soup so when it comes to eating the "right" types of soup experts suggest going for a heart healthy bowl that's low in sodium and high in fiber. As for a perk to eating a bowl of healthy soup? Variety is key. Mixing it up with a variety of vegetables such as beans, spinach and carrots as well as protein, such as low-fat turkey, keeps the calories low and fiber content high.
Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Soup
* 1 onion, chopped
* 1 (16 ounce) can chili beans
* 1 (15 ounce) can black beans
* 1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
* 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
* 1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle beer
* 2 (10 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained
* 1 (1.25 ounce) package taco seasoning
* 3 whole skinless, boneless chicken breasts
* shredded Cheddar cheese (optional)
* sour cream (optional)
* crushed tortilla chips (optional)
Place the onion, chili beans, black beans, corn, tomato sauce, beer, and diced tomatoes in a slow cooker. Add taco seasoning, and stir to blend. Lay chicken breasts on top of the mixture, pressing down slightly until just covered by the other ingredients. Set slow cooker for low heat, cover, and cook for 5 hours.
Remove chicken breasts from the soup, and allow to cool long enough to be handled. Stir the shredded chicken back into the soup, and continue cooking for 2 hours. Serve topped with shredded Cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and crushed tortilla chips, if desired.