Keeping you mentally sharp and perky this winter by Nellie Pigot - Holistic Nutritionist & Naturopath.

Winter is here. The changing seasons are a natural progression and are often beautiful to behold. However, it takes some adapting to – the shorter days and longer nights, the drop in temperature, the inclement and changeable weather. Many of us go into hibernation mode and wait out the time until the first buds of spring appear. We naturally veer towards warm, cooked food, possibly more carbohydrate and fat rich, comforting and wholesome. For many of us its a time to slow down and keep warm and cosy.

However, sometimes we can feel quite low, unfocused and unmotivated during the winter months and there are good reasons for why that happens. So here are some tips to help lift you out of that space and keep you sharp and perky.

Sunshine gives us a good quota of our daily Vitamin D intake which amongst other things is important for mood, sleep, immunity, absorption of other nutrients and motivation. There are some interesting studies around how vital it is to keep your Vitamin D levels optimum to prevent dementia and cognitive decline in later years. Its common for levels to drop during winter due to lack of sunshine so I often recommend a Vitamin D supplement to keep levels optimum.

Good quality fats in our diet are also important. Omega 3 fats are highly concentrated in the brain and are vital for mood, memory and good cognition. Great sources of Omega 3’s are fish, shellfish and good quality fish oil or, if you’re a vegetarian, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, coconut and hemp seeds. I love Make Me Feel Smarter from Humanature. It contains Enzogenol, the natural antioxidant rich extract from pine bark combined with fish oil to boost the circulation of blood to the brain to get those Omega 3 oils to where it really matters.

Magnesium and zinc are two minerals that really help improve both mood and energy. Making sure that we eat a really good quota of vegetables, particularly leafy greens, nuts, seeds and wholegrains will keep our levels good. Magnesium also relaxes muscles in preparation for good sleep, another factor that is vital for keeping on top of good brain function.

Zinc combined with Vitamin B6 make good mood hormones. Vitamin B1, B3 and B6 have all been shown to regulate mood and improve focus and concentration. I often recommend a good B Complex through the winter to keep up energy and focus. Incidentally keeping your gut bacteria really healthy helps you make B Vitamins as well as making serotonin, a natural antidepressant in the gut and boosting immunity. Eat plenty of fermented and cultured foods or take a good probiotic.

Specific foods that lift mood are berries and chocolate – what a combination! The deep red/purple colours in berries are exceptionally high in antioxidants that protect your brain cells and improving cognition, whilst dark chocolate reduces stress hormones, releases chemicals called endorphins which make you feel happy and boosts serotonin to balance mood.

Regular exercise to increase your heart rate releases endorphins. It also improves blood supply to the brain, stimulating nerve connections and protecting them from damage, thereby improving cognition and protecting against age related dementia. A brisk jog or cycle before work will keep you focused throughout the day.

Finally, sleep. Nothing restores brain function and improves mood like a really good nights sleep. Turn off your computer and phone early in the evening, have some Magnesium or a hot Epsom Salts bath and aim to get 8 hours. Then you will power out of bed in the morning ready to start the day!

Nellie Pigot is a passionate foodie who loves sharing her knowledge of nutrition & naturopathy – www.nelliepigot.co.nz