Even though it is still snowing in certain parts of the country and mud, rather than grass and flowers, color backyards and parks, it is beginning to feel like spring. Folks are beginning to drag their cool weather clothes out of their storage closets and think hopefully about taking the winter coats to the drycleaner. Along with transitioning to brighter, lighter clothes of spring, why not consider tossing out the heavy, often calorie-rich foods that comforted you during the cold, dark months just past.
Traditional Jewish families go through a ritual cleaning of their food supplies in preparation for the spring holiday of Passover. The intent is to get rid of foods containing flour, corn, rice, beans, and anything else that swells when in contact with water. Why not do your own spring preparations, discard bags of high-fat snack foods such as cookies and chips, and throw out leftovers like a frozen remnant of cake from a winter birthday or a forgotten slice of pizza in the back of the freezer?
Just as it feels good to look at the brightly colored clothes of spring, it also feels good to open the refrigerator and see a variety of newly available springtime vegetables like asparagus or fruits like strawberries. Salads suddenly feel more appealing than they did when the outside temperature hovered around minus five degrees Fahrenheit, and heavy casseroles, stews, and soups are about as welcome as another snowstorm.
This transition to lighter, more vegetable and fruit-based dishes is helped by the effect of spring on the brains. We have passed the spring equinox and all over the northern hemisphere there are more than twelve hours of daylight. As the number of daylight hours increase, moods rise and, happily, appetites decrease. Many people feel renewed mental, emotional and physical energy, sleep less and find themselves thinking of new activities and interests rather than what is planned for dessert.
Pay attention to the effect of spring daylight and increased serotonin on your food cravings. You may discover that you no longer need to eat a snack late in the morning. You may even forget to snack in the late afternoon of a bright sunny day.
However, even spring sunshine can’t replace your brain’s need to renew its serotonin levels. As we point out in The Serotonin Power Diet, a dinner of starchy carbohydrates, vegetables, and fruit is the easiest way to boost the levels of this essential brain chemical.
Try lighter versions of carbohydrate comfort meals such as Pasta Primavera. This pasta dish contains a variety of spring vegetables like baby peas, asparagus tips, and shredded young spinach leaves and can be seasoned with a lemony tomato sauce. Polenta, a creamy textured dish made from finely ground cornmeal and water, is a light golden version of southern grits without the fat and thickness. Preparation requires only water, salt, cornmeal, and stirring.
The latter can be done with one hand while chitchatting on the phone. When the mixture is smooth and has thickened, add some grated cheese or sautéed mushrooms and garlic or a mixture of lightly sautéed red peppers, carrots and onions. Fingerling potatoes are another spring treat. These tiny thin-skinned potatoes pop in your mouth when oven roasted with a sprinkling of olive oil and kosher salt. Make extra and, after heating them in a microwave, eat them as an afternoon snack.
Bruschetta, which is a fancy name for toasted slices of Italian bread, can be layered with finely chopped tomatoes and fresh herbs like basil. It goes well with a tossed salad made with spring vegetables. Replace the Romaine or iceberg lettuce with leafy greens such as arugula, chicory and curly lettuce, add cut-up asparagus tips, roasted beets, sweet peapods, spring onions (scallions) and use red and yellow peppers to make the mix more colorful. After microwaving them to medium softness and rubbing off their skin, roast new beets. Then sprinkle them with olive oil and kosher salt and put them in a hot oven for ten minutes or so. Their ruby color will make your salad glow.
Combine lunchtime with walking time. On warm days, take your lunch and walk to a sunny place to eat it. Start doing this now and try to extend the duration of your walk each week by walking a little faster. The combination of warmer weather, sunshine, and exercise will make the afternoon more tolerable, even if you have to push yourself to go back inside. Walk, garden, or do other outside activities in the evenings.
This is the season for late sunsets so don’t let these hours of daylight go to waste by staying inside when you arrive home from work. Remember those days when it was dark by 4:00 p.m.? Use the three or more hours of daylight to reward yourself from enduring those weeks of inside hibernation.
Finally, as you pull those spring clothes out of the closet, try on a few that did not fit last year. Just by shutting off your appetite with serotonin-boosting carbohydrates plus your springtime increase in vigor and exercise, this year they will.