Even with its gorgeous foliage and festivities, autumn triggers anxiety and depression for many people. The shorter days and lack of sunlight affect our circadian rhythms; we feel the stress of upcoming holidays; and the claustrophobia of winter is lurking around the corner. I’m not a dietitian, but I’ve learned a lot from experts about food and mood, and I’ve learned what works for me. Mother Nature fortunately has done her part in providing many foods and spices during this season that can aid our sanity. From enjoying freshly picked apples to munching on dry pumpkin seeds, autumn is full of good-mood foods that can help us enjoy the season.
1. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are one of Mother Nature’s most potent mood boosters. They’re chock-full of zinc (containing 23 percent of our daily recommended value in just one ounce), which Emily Deans, MD, calls an “essential mineral for resiliency” in her Psychology Today blog Zinc: An Antidepressant. The mineral also increases our ability to fight off inflammation, which can cause depression and anxiety. In addition, it’s rich in magnesium, our calming nutrient: According to a 2012 study in the journal Neuropharmacology, magnesium deficiencies induce anxiety, which is why the mineral is known as the original chill pill.
Squash was already one of my favorite fall foods before I knew it was packed full of mood-boosting ingredients. Just one cup of butternut squash contains 15 percent of the daily recommended value of magnesium, 17 percent of potassium, and 18 percent of manganese — all critical minerals to keep you sane. One cup also contains a whopping 52 percent of vitamin C, which gives a helping hand to our immune system and to our entire central nervous system.
Cinnamon was used as early as 2000 BC in ancient Egypt to treat a host of different health conditions. A study at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia, showed that even smelling cinnamon enhanced cognitive performance. The spice is especially good for anxiety and depression because it helps regulate blood sugar. And one teaspoon provides 22 percent of the daily recommended value of manganese, a critical trace mineral that helps with nerve function and connective tissues, aiding the central nervous system in general. In addition, it plays a role in neutralizing free radicals that can damage cell membranes and DNA.