Eat the right foods to keep you happy this winter

The winter can be a time when many people experience the blues. This is because in many parts of the U.S., the winter means there is less sunlight, and insufficient exposure to the sun's rays may make a person feel sadder than they would on a bright day. However, there's no reason to worry, because with the right amount of vitamins and nutrients you can help beat the winter blues.

Recently, The Herald, a newspaper based out of Ireland, published some tips on how to eat to avoid feeling sad during the colder months. This country is notorious for it's cloud cover, so people from the northern parts of the U.S. should listen to their expertise.

Vitamins and antioxidants

First, the news source recommended that people consume more fish during the colder months. This makes sense, considering that salmon is one of the few foods that is rich in vitamin D, a nutrient that are our body produces in response to exposure to sunlight. The Herald added that insufficient vitamin D may contribute to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), where people feel blue during the winter months.

Also, bananas may help fight off the depressive effects of winter. The natural sugars in this fruit are released into the bloodstream and may help you feel more energized. For double the benefits, you may consider trying bananas dipped in dark chocolate. Chocolate is packed with antioxidants, and has been shown to activate feel-good receptors in the brain.

Eggs and walnuts are other foods that you may to seek out, since these are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids that may not only boost your mood, but also your cardiovascular health.

Snacks to avoid

So now that you know the foods that may enhance your mood, you should also know the ones to avoid. WebMD cited a study called the Coronary Health Improvement Project, which found that people who decreased the amount of saturated fat they consumed experienced a boost in their mood. This suggests you should avoid fried snacks and junk foods if you want to fight off winter sadness.

Also, while alcohol may produce a temporary feeling of euphoria, it's actually a depressant, so try to limit how much you drink, particularly in the winter. Finally, consuming too much caffeine may disrupt your sleep at night, and cause you to feel cranky in the morning, so cut back on the coffee after 2 p.m.

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Turn to portion control, not calorie counting


Meeting your weight loss goals can be a challenge, especially if you're spending all of your time counting calories. Luckily, there are ways to lose weight that don't require you to keep track of every single calorie that's on your plate. Recently, U.S. News published an article by Keri Gans, M.S., R.D., who explained ways that you can learn how to make sensibly portioned meals that are packed with vitamins and antioxidants.

Learning portion control is simpler and more effective than counting calories, and the right meals can leave you more satisfied than any 100-calorie bag of chips.

It's all about the right balance

According to the expert, a healthy plate is ideally divided into half vegetables, one-fourth lean protein and one-fourth high-fiber carbohydrates. For lean protein, Gans recommended beans, skinless chicken, egg whites and fish.

Out of all of these options, fish may be the best one. According to the Washington State Department of Health, many fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy lipids that may benefit brain health. Also, fish has vitamins such as B12 and D.

With vegetables, you can't really go wrong no matter which ones you choose, but determining high-fiber carbohydrate options can be a bit trickier. Gans suggested oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and whole-wheat bread.

Of course, you can't forget about fruits.

"Where does fruit fit in? Fruit can replace (or share) the veggie portion of your plate, or serve as your high-fiber carbohydrate. It can also simply be eaten as part of a snack or dessert," wrote Gans for U.S. News.

Tips for portion control

Gans explained some simple ways to figure out how much you are eating without using a measuring cup. For example, a one-ounce serving of cheese looks like six playing dice, while one ounce of nuts can fit inside a shot glass. Also, one cup of pasta is about the size of a tennis ball, and a medium potato should look like a computer mouse.

The Mayo Clinic states that one serving of most fruits is the size of a tennis ball as well. This is important to keep in mind, because while fruits are good sources of antioxidants and vitamins, they can also contain high amounts of sugar. 

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Do you know how to make brain food?


Are you looking to boost your brain health? What about the health of your children? Now that it's back to school time, it's important for children to eat well so that they can stay focused in the classroom. This means ensuring that their diet is rich in important nutrients such as omgea-3s, vitamin C and fiber. Of course, it isn't always easy to know the best foods to choose for your family, but there are some simple rules to follow for healthy eating.

Recently, The Washington Post spoke to experts on how the right foods can improve your brain health, and where to find them.

Healthy foods make for focused people

First, the news source spoke to neurologist Majid Fotuhi, chairman of the Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness in Baltimore, who explained that food can affect the brain in a few short minutes. For example, you may have noticed that when you consume sugary snacks, you'll feel a burst of energy, followed by a bout of sleepiness due to a "sugar crash." This is why it's important to choose foods that will help the brain, not work against it.

According to the Post, all of the experts interviewed stated that omega-3 fatty acids are essential to brain health. These lipids can be found in salmon, walnuts, olive oil and many other foods that are part of the Mediterranean diet. Fotuhi recommended this eating plan, which has also been shown to help people reach their weight loss goals and potentially improve their cardiovascular health.

Prevention magazine suggests consuming leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy and brussels sprouts, which are packed with antioxidants that help fight off the effects of harmful free radicals in the body.

It's never too late

While it's especially important for children – who have still-developing brains – to consume these foods, adults should as well.

"One of the things that's so fascinating about the brain is its plasticity and ability to grow at any age," said Fotuhi, quoted by the Post. "Research has shown that if you change the diet in nursing homes, quality of life and cognitive performance changes. You can always improve brain function, no matter how old you are."

So what are you waiting for? Use these tips as a guide and start cooking meals that can help improve the health of your family! 

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Try healthy oils rather than butter when you cook


When people get ready to cook a meal, the last thing they should reach for is butter. That's because butter is packed with saturated fat and calories, and is certain to foil a person's weight loss plans. Instead, many trendy weight management plans, like the Mediterranean diet, encourage people to use oils in place of butter whenever possible. Olive and other oils contain healthy lipids like omega-3 fatty acids and are lower in saturated fat than butter.

Recently, the San Diego Union-Tribune published an article explaining the many benefits of choosing oils over butter when cooking.

'Healthy' fats

According to the news source, people who want to improve their cardiovascular health should choose oils over butter when the recipe can allow for it, because saturated and trans fats are not good for the heart.

"Unsaturated fats are preferred and include omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats, omega-6 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats. A healthy diet contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in oils such as flaxseed oil, hemp oil, pumpkin seed oil and walnut oil. Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in corn, wheat germ oil, sesame and grape seed oil," stated the information provider.

More than just olive oil

The news source recommended walnut oil for salad dressings, desserts, and meat and fish dishes. This is a good source of omega-3s, though it can be pricey. The Union-Tribune also suggested hemp oil, which has a nutty flavor and contains vitamin E.

According to the National Institutes of Health, vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant, which may help boost the immune system. This nutrient can also be found in wheat germ oil, sunflower oil, olive oil, tomatoes, almonds and some cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. 

Grape seed oil is an interesting choice for stir-frying or sauteing, as it has omega-3s, omega-6s and vitamin C. The Union-Tribune suggested mixing this oil with rosemary and oregano for a tasty salad dressing.

Finally, try sesame oil, which can be used in a number of dishes including chicken, mixed vegetables and in marinades and dressings. The news source added that one benefit of  this oil is that it has a rich and nutty flavor that does not become bitter or disappear when it is cooked at high temperatures. It also does not need to be refrigerated. 

So try out these oils the next time you reach for the butter while cooking.

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Eat your way to a happier mood


There are many healthy foods that have been associated with improved cardiovascular health, such as salmon, which contains omega-3 fatty acids, and dark chocolate, which is a good source of antioxidants. Now, research presented at National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society has suggested that these foods, among others, may also be able to boost brain health.

According to researchers, berries, chocolate, tea and foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids contain organic compounds that resemble the molecular structure of valproic acid. This substance is the main ingredient in many mood-stabilizing drugs, and these foods contain substances that are extremely similar to it, giving new meaning to the phrase "comfort food."

Eat right, feel better

Karina Martinez-Mayorga, Ph.D., who was the lead researcher on the study, said that her team examined more than 1,700 food flavor ingredients to see if any of them have chemical properties similar to mood-enhancing medications. Chocolate, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, teas and omega-3-rich foods, among others, were on the list of treats that may be able to affect a person's mood.

According to the scientists, these findings warrant more research into how diet may be used to improve mood. While the results are promising, Martinez-Mayorga warned against taking them as a sign that all you need for your mental well-being is food.

"It is important to remember that just eating foods that may improve mood is not a substitute for prescribed [mood-enhancing] drugs," Martinez-Mayorga cautioned.

However, she added that for people not on medications, pursuing an active lifestyle and eating certain foods could have a large impact on mood.

Happy meals

Health Magazine has independently offered some suggestions for meals that may help a person improve his or her mood. For example, a salmon salad with olive oil vinaigrette will offer eaters a double-dose of omega-3 fatty acids.

Next, the news source recommended a low-fat shrimp and pasta dish, since carbohydrate-rich meals have been shown to potentially increase levels serotonin, one of the chemicals in the body that is responsible for elevating mood. The information provider also suggested lentil soup, since it is a good source of protein, fiber and folate. Studies have shown that people who do not have enough folate are more likely to experience sour moods than those who consume higher levels of the vitamin.

Finally, people should remember to choose antioxidant-rich beverages with their meals, such as green tea or coffee.

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The Mediterranean diet may be good for the bones


One of the keys to healthy aging is to protect the skeleton. While many people know that vitamin D and calcium are essential to bone health, they may not realize that their weight can also play a role. For example, a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that being overweight can be damaging to the bones. Furthermore, the increased pressure that being overweight places on the joints may cause pain.

Recently, a new study suggested that there may be a way to promote the health of bones and weight loss at the same time. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism shows that following a Mediterranean diet may have protective benefits for bones. Furthermore, this diet has been used as an effective weight loss tool for many years.

Good for bone and cardiovascular health

According to researchers, olive oil, which is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, has been associated with bone health.

"The intake of olive oil has been related to the prevention of [bone problems] in experimental and in vitro models," said José Manuel Fernández-Real, M.D., Ph.D., of Girona, Spain, and lead author of the study.

Researchers found that people who consumed a Mediterranean diet with virgin olive oil were found to have improved bone health over those who consumed a low fat diet or a Mediterranean diet that included mixed nuts, but not as much olive oil. Furthermore, people who ate more olive oil had higher calcium levels than the others.

Other benefits of the Mediterranean diet

Along with potentially helping the bones, the Mediterranean diet has been associated with improved cardiovascular health. According to staff at the Mayo Clinic, this eating plan mostly consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and olive oil. Many of the components of this diet, such as salmon, anchovies and olive oil, are all good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Some people who follow the regimen have also seen improvements in their cholesterol levels. This is likely due to the fact that while following the Mediterranean eating plan, people are supposed to replace butter with olive oil, which has less saturated fat.

Finally, the Mediterranean diet encourages people to drink moderate amounts of red wine, which contains resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant.

So, people who are interested in potentially improving their bone and heart health should consider trying a Mediterranean diet. 

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There are things you can do to improve eye health


A major part of healthy aging is protecting the eyes, since a person's sight may deteriorate as he or she ages. While some people may be under the impression that there is little they can do to imrpove their eye health, they would be wrong. In fact, there are many vitamins and nutrients that have been shown to benefit the eyes, and it can be easy to whip up a meal that is good for the body and the vision.

Recently, the Desert Sun, a Palm Springs news source, published an article explaining how people can change their diet to potentially improve their eye health.

Antioxidants and vitamins are the key

While carrots have long been considered the best food that individuals can consume to improve the health of their eyes, there are others as well. For example, the newspaper recommended other vegetables such as kale, spinach, zucchini and collard greens, since they contain the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.

"Lutein is also found in eggs, especially the yolk," the source pointed out. "Recipe note: Because lutein is a fat-soluble nutrient, absorption is increased when consumed with a little oil. So it's good to know that olive oil drizzled on summer's fresh salads is good for your taste buds and your eyes."

The information provider added that zinc and vitamin C are also important for eye health. According to the National Institutes of Health, zinc is present in oysters, crab, lobsters, pork chops and fortified cereals. Good sources of vitamin C include cantaloupe, mango, kiwi and citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit.

Other tasty ways to boost eye health

According to WebMD Health News, studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet may also benefit the eyes. This diet consists of foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, walnuts, tuna, almonds and olive oil.

The medical information website added that while butter may be harmful to a person's overall health, olive oil contains not only eye-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, but also antioxidants.

The Mediterranean diet also usually involves moderate red wine consumption. This beverage contains resveratrol, an antioxidant that has also been associated with eye health. A 2008 study published in the journal Cell Metabolism found that resveratrol may help ward off age-related decline of the eyes. 

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This summer, eat healthy treats that may benefit the skin


During the summer, skin care is particularly important. This means that people should wear sunscreen and clothing that will protect them from the sun's UV rays. There are also many foods people can eat in the summer that may boost the health of their skin. These foods often contain vitamin C and E, antioxidants and lycopene.

The Huffington Post has compiled a list of summer foods that may be healthy for the skin. First, the news source suggested pomegranate, which is a major source of antioxidants. Next, the information provider said that tomatoes are a popular summer snack that can provide people with healthy amounts of lycopene, which may benefit the skin.

Kiwis, blueberries, and sweet potatoes are all loaded with vitamin C and E, and the information provider suggested that individuals eat these foods to boost skin health. Also, sipping green tea or even applying products that contain green tea may be good for the skin, and this beverage is another good source of antioxidants.

Fitness Magazine also has some recommendations for foods that people should eat that may benefit the skin. The news source spoke to Nicholas Perricone M.D., a dermatologist in New York who said that contrary to popular belief, chocolate may actually be good for the skin, as long as it's the dark variety.

"Dark chocolate contains high levels of flavonols, a potent type of antioxidant," said Perricone, quoted by the news source.

Finally, the information provider recommended walnuts to boost the health of the skin. These nuts are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which may also boost brain health. 

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Natural ways to help boost joint health


As people age, it is more likely that they are going to experience some kind of discomfort in their knees and hips, which is why individuals should be focused on improving joint health when they get older. Recently, Everyday Health spoke to a number of doctors about ways to boost joint health. Among the many suggestions they made were to consume more omega-3 fatty acids and to come up with a weight loss strategy.

First, the news source spoke to Jamal A. Mikdashi, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore., who said that office workers who want to improve their joint health should take occasional breaks from typing. According to the doctor, repetitive motions and sitting for long periods of time may cause joint discomfort, so people should stand up and stretch often.

Next the news source recommended getting regular physical activity for joint health.
"Lounging may be a good thing for a Sunday afternoon, but if it is a daily habit, you may actually be adding to your [joint] pain. It sounds counterintuitive, but don’t use aching knees or other joint pain as an excuse for being physically inactive," according to the information provider.

The Mayo Clinic also recommends that people with joint pain get moderate exercise to strengthen their muscles and get more energy throughout the day. Lack of physical activity can increase stiffness by weakening the muscles that support the bones and putting more stress on the joints.

Finally, the information provider spoke to Bonita Libman, M.D., an associate professor of rheumatology and clinical immunology at the University of Vermont, who recommended that people consume more omega-3 fatty acids through fish or supplements, since these healthy fats have been shown to potentially boost joint health.

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The right nutrients may support eye health


People who are interested in supporting the health of their eyes should know that they need to be getting the right nutrients. These include omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins that can be found in both foods and supplements. Recently, The Vancouver Sun spoke to optometrist Dr. Sonja Hagemann, who often recommends that her patients change their diets if they are looking to protect their eyes from the effects of aging.

First, the doctor explained how the right nutrients can help keep the eyes young. She explained that certain foods have compounds that have been shown potentially benefit the eyes.

"Your eyes [may] benefit from the pigment found in lutein and zeaxanthin, which are best gained from eating superfoods such as kale, Swiss chard and spinach," said Hagemann, quoted by the news source.

Hagemann suggested that people strive to get at least one to two grams of omega-3s a day, which can be done through diet or supplements. Foods such as salmon, tuna, walnuts and flaxseeds are all good sources of these fatty acids. According to The University of Maryland Medical Center, studies have found that people who regularly ate fish high in omega-3s showed signs of support for eye health.

Next, the optometrist recommended taking the right vitamins for eye health. She said to look for high-quality multivitamins that contain high amount of antioxidants with CoQ10, green tea extract, alpha lipoic acid, N-Acetylcysteine and vitamin B.

Finally, Hagemann recommended that people avoid smoking, obesity and overexposure to sunlight without sunglasses if they want to keep their eyes healthy as they age.

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