Foods to beat winter blues

Dark chocolate contains the neurotransmitter serotonin, which acts as a natural anti-depressant

UMNIA SHAHID December 29, 2014

Winter and great health go together like sardines and ice cream. Or, at least, that’s what many people think. Between December and February, living in Pakistan can feel like an exercise in mucus management and sun-stripped seasonal depression. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Both immunity and emotional well-being are within reach, with the right nutrients and the right foods. As compiled by Daily Mail, Rodal News, Self and Health magazine, stock your pantry to battle the winter blahs.

Dark chocolate

Our favourite treat stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that bring on feelings of pleasure. It also contains the neurotransmitter serotonin, which acts as a natural anti-depressant. And antioxidants in chocolate may also help to lower stress hormone production and reduce anxiety, frequently caused in winter time. But with chocolate, the darker, the better. Always choose dark chocolate with 75 per cent cocoa solids or higher to obtain the beneficial effects. People who suffer the winter blues often get deficient in a natural amino acid called trytophan, contained heavily in dark chocolate.


According to research, our plain old daal can efficiently help in beating winter blues. The folic acid in this staple has an effect on the brain that boosts mood. The body uses folic acid to create serotonin, which is a chemical that affects mood and boosts the feeling of well-being. Folic acid is fundamental for efficient brain function, and plays a significant role in maintaining mental and emotional health. If daal isn’t your thing, some foods that contain high amounts of folic acid are leafy greens, oatmeal, and wheat germ.


Unsurprisingly, one thing the majority of us will be deficient in during winter is vitamin D. Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because our body produces it by synthesizing cholesterol, while absorbing natural sunlight. It can improve your mood and make you feel happier, especially during the doldrums in winter. When it’s cold and foggy (especially in Lahore), the lack of natural sunshine requires us to get our vitamin D from foods that are jam-packed in the vitamin. A perfect example would be mushrooms. Mushrooms, like our skin, produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. That’s why they are particularly high in this vitamin, naturally.


Curry has long been among Pakistan’s favourite dishes and now there’s one more reason to eat your chicken qorma, as a vital ingredient may be the key to fending off the cold virus. Ginger, cayenne pepper and turmeric or haldi are used generously in desi curries and that’s what makes it a perfect meal to beat winter blues. Ginger and turmeric have long been hailed as the “fix-all elixirs,” thanks to their powerful antiviral properties repeatedly proven by extensive studies. Researchers found it may stave off viruses that cause sniffles and sore throats, helping to relieve common winter health issues.

Chicken Soup

There’s a reason your mom always had a bowl of this at the first sign of flu. Not only does chicken soup provide the fluids you need to help fight off viruses, but it also reduces the inflammation that triggers symptoms and leads to more colds that plague us during winter time. It’s not clear which ingredient in the soup provides the most benefit, but researchers believe it’s the combination of all the healthy vegetables and chicken that soothes symptoms and helps ease winter aches and pains.

Black Pepper

Ironically, the spice best known for making you sneeze can ward off sneeze attacks during winter time. Mix black pepper with vinegar, and the concoction can help increase the absorption of both herbal and over-the-counter medications. Black peppercorns are particularly high in piperine, a compound known for its anti-fever and pain-relieving properties. Pepper is a natural decongestant  — it contains chemicals that irritate your mucus membranes, making them produce thinner, more watery mucus and giving you a runny nose. This helps clear out nasal passages, which is a relief during winter time, explains Neil Schachter, MD, a professor at the Mt Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.


There is a good reason why Popeye was a cheerful chap. Spinach is rich in folate, required by the body for the production of the mood-boosting chemical and dopamine. To reap its benefit, aim for at least two portions of spinach daily. If spinach isn’t your thing, other green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage and kale, are viable options. A point to note: lightly steam to preserve their nutritional content. Another reason to indulge in mum’s alu paalak.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 30th,  2014.

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