kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

We are deep into winter in the northern hemisphere. Our joints ache, our pets and kids are cranky, and when it is sunny, it is often too cold to be outside for long and, in fact, since November, it has been very cloudy. 72% of January, 2020, was cloudy in Minnesota. The Mayo Clinic says we have to keep an eye on our mood when the seasons change.

In most cases, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days in the spring and summer. Less commonly, people with the opposite pattern have symptoms that begin in spring or summer. In either case, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.

Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Foods have an immense impact on your body and your brain, and eating whole foods is a good way to support your mental and physical health. Avoiding sugar and artificial sweeteners is, based on the evidence, a crucial way of preventing and/or treating depression. Sugars and the substitutes contribute to chronic inflammation and can wreak havoc with your brain function. Recent research also shows how swapping processed junk food for a healthier diet can significantly improve depression symptoms.

Both sugar and artificially-sweetened beverages, according to a study published in 2014, linked sweetened beverages to an increased risk of depression. Those who drank more than four cans of soda a week had a 30% higher risk of depression compared to those who did not consume sweetened beverages of any kind.

Interestingly, fruit juices were even more hazardous. The same amount of sweetened fruit drinks (four glasses) was associated with a 38% higher risk of depression.

Overall, artificially sweetened so-called “diet” drinks were associated with the highest risks of depression, compared to beverages sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. More specifically, compared to those who did not drink sweetened beverages:

  • Those who drank primarily diet soda were 31% more likely to suffer with depression, whereas regular soda was associated with a 22% increased risk
  • Those who drank primarily diet fruit drinks had a 51% higher risk for depression, while consuming regular fruit drinks was associated with an 8% increased risk
  • Drinking primarily diet iced tea was associated with a 25% increased risk for depression, whereas those who drank regular sweetened iced tea had a 6% reduced risk

Recent research detailed in “The Link Between Fast Food and Teenage Depression” found adolescents who had elevated levels of sodium and low levels of potassium in their urine, two factors indicative of a diet high in junk food and processed food, had more frequent symptoms of depression.

According to the authors, “Given the substantial brain development that occurs during adolescence, individuals in this developmental period may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of diet on the neural mechanisms underlying emotion regulation and depression.”

There are at least four potential mechanisms through which refined sugar intake could exert a toxic effect on mental health:

  1. Sugar (particularly fructose) and grains contribute to insulin and leptin resistance and impaired signaling, which play a significant role in your mental health.
  2. Sugar suppresses activity of a key growth hormone called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes healthy brain neurons. BDNF levels are critically low in both depression and schizophrenia.
  3. Sugar consumption also triggers a cascade of chemical reactions in your body that promote chronic inflammation. In the long term, inflammation disrupts the normal functioning of your immune system, which is linked to a greater risk of depression.
  4. Sugar impairs your gut’s microbiome and influences the modulation of stress response, immune function, neurotransmission and neurogenesis.

A study published in the October 2019 issue of PLOS ONE  found dietary intervention can effectively treat depression in young adults. The researchers enrolled 101 individuals aged 17 to 35, whose stress and depression scores indicated moderate to high levels of depression.

Participants were divided into two groups. One received dietary intervention while the other (controls) received no intervention.

The treatment group was instructed to eat:

  • Five servings of vegetables per day
  • Two to three servings of fruit per day
  • Three serving of wholegrain cereal per day
  • Three servings of protein per day
  • Three servings of unsweetened dairy per day
  • Three servings of fish per week
  • Three tablespoons of nuts or seeds per day
  • Two tablespoons of olive oil per day
  • One teaspoon of turmeric and cinnamon on most days

Refined carbohydrates, sugar, processed meats and soft drinks were to be avoided as much as possible.

“There is strong epidemiological evidence that poor diet is associated with depression. The reverse has also been shown, namely that eating a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables, fish and lean meat, is associated with reduced risk of depression …

There was good compliance with the diet intervention recommendations assessed using self-report and spectrophotometry. The Diet group had significantly lower self-reported depression symptoms than the Control Group …

Reduced DASS-21 depression subscale scores were maintained on follow up phone call 3 months later. These results are the first to show that young adults with elevated depression symptoms can engage in and adhere to a diet intervention, and that this can reduce symptoms of depression.”

Keeping inflammation in check is an important part of any effective mental health treatment plan. If you’re gluten sensitive, remove all gluten from your diet. Reducing lectins may also be a good idea. Lectins are found in:

  • nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, potatoes, goji berries, peppers, and eggplant.
  • all legumes, such as lentils, beans, peanuts, and chickpeas.
  • peanut-based products, such as peanut butter and peanut oil.

Ask yourself if you might be reacting to dairy? Remove it for a couple of weeks and check in with how you feel.

Certain nutritional deficiencies are also notorious contributors to depression, especially:

Omega-3 fats have been shown to improve major depressive disorder, so make sure you’re getting enough omega-3s in your diet. You want your omega-3 index to be 8% or higher. You can ask your doctor to test levels.

B vitamins (including B1, B2, B3, B6, B9 and B12) – add a  plant-based multi vitamin. Low dietary folate can raise your risk of depression by as much as 304%. A 2017 study showing the importance of vitamin deficiencies, most turning out to be deficient in cerebral folate. All of study participants showed improvement after treatment with folic acid.

Magnesium supplements have been shown to improve mild-to-moderate depression in adults, with beneficial effects occurring within two weeks of treatment.

Studies have shown vitamin D deficiency can predispose you to depression and that depression can respond to getting sensible sun exposure. For optimal health, make sure your vitamin D level is between 60 and 80 ng/mL year-round. Ideally, get a vitamin D test at least twice a year to monitor your level.

Cilantro and Coriander

Cilantro looks like the “other parsley”.

Cilantro and coriander are the names used in the United States to describe two different parts of the same plant, Coriandrum sativum. It’s an annual herb, which means it blooms and must be replanted yearly. Cilantro is used to describe the green, citrus-flavored leaves. Coriander is the common name for the plant’s light brown seeds, which are dried and used as a cooking spice.

Although they come from the same plant, cilantro and coriander have different nutrient profiles. Cilantro has higher levels of vitamins, such as vitamins A, K and E, while coriander is more abundant in minerals like manganese, iron, magnesium and calcium.

Cilantro has a fragrant, refreshing and citrusy taste and aroma, while coriander has a warmer, spicy and nutty taste and aroma. Interestingly, some people may have a specific genetic trait that makes them perceive cilantro differently. Its pungent flavor is off-putting and people who react describe it as tasting “soapy.” If you think cilantro has a soapy taste, your genetics may be to blame. Research has shown that variations in specific genes may be responsible for your dislike of this herb.

For those who don’t like cilantro, there is a variety of other herbs available to experiment with. For example, parsley, which belongs to the same plant family as cilantro, makes an excellent replacement. When using parsley to replace cilantro in a recipe, try adding a bit of lemon juice or other citrus juice to enhance its flavor. Basil is another great choice when looking for a cilantro alternative that also offers impressive health benefits.

If you need a substitute for coriander seeds, caraway, cumin, and curry powder are good options.

Coriander seeds, extract, and oils may all help lower blood sugar. In fact, people who have low blood sugar or take diabetes medication should practice caution with coriander because it’s so effective in lowering blood sugar.

Coriander offers several antioxidants, which prevent cellular damage caused by free radicals. Its antioxidants have been shown to fight inflammation in your body. These compounds include terpinene, quercetin, and tocopherols, which may have anticancer, immune-boosting, and neuroprotective effects, according to test-tube and animal studies. One test-tube study found that the antioxidants in coriander seed extract lowered inflammation and slowed the growth of lung, prostate, breast, and colon cancer cells.

A study including 68 people that experienced frequent migraine headaches found coriander helped. The authors asked participants in one group to take 15 milliliters (ml) of coriander fruit syrup in combination with a traditional migraine medication three times a day for 1  month. A control group took conventional migraine medication only. The group taking the combination treatment experienced a reduced severity, duration, and frequency of migraines compared to the control group.

Cilantro is a powerful, cleansing agent that specifically targets toxic metals. We are constantly exposed to toxic metals like aluminum, arsenic, and cadmium. Toxic metals tend to accumulate in the endocrine system, muscle tissue, and even deep within the bones. Once these metals reach dangerous levels, many serious health concerns occur. Common side effects of toxic metal exposure include hormone imbalance, oxidative stress from free radicals, and, in extreme cases, impaired organ function.

Cilantro helps cleanse the body of toxic metals by supporting the body’s natural detoxification processes. Compounds in cilantro leaf bind to toxic metals and loosen them from affected tissue. This process allows metals to be released from the body naturally. You can access these benefits by consuming the raw leaves or ingesting concentrated extracts.

  • Cilantro herb is very low in calories and contains no cholesterol. However, its deep-green leaves possess good amounts of antioxidants, essential oils, vitamins, and dietary fiber, which may help reduce LDL
  • Its leaves and seeds contain many essential volatile oils such as borneol, linalool, cineole, cymene, terpineol, di-pentene, phellandrene, pinene, and terpinolene.
  • The leaves and stem tips are also rich in numerous antioxidant polyphenolic flavonoids such as quercetin, kaempferol, rhamnetin, and apigenin.
  • The herb is a good source of minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that help regulate heart rate and blood pressure. Iron is essential for red blood cell production. The human body uses manganese as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
  • It is also rich in many vital vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin-A, beta carotene, vitamin-C, which are essential for optimum health. Vitamin C is a powerful natural antioxidant. 100 g of cilantro leaves provide 30% of daily recommended levels of vitamin-C.
  • It provides 6,748 IU of vitamin A per 100 g, about 225% of recommended daily intake. Vitamin A, an important fat-soluble vitamin, and antioxidant, is also required for maintaining healthy mucosa and skin and is also essential for vision. Consumption of natural foods rich in vitamin-A and flavonoids (carotenes) may help protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
  • Cilantro is one of the richest herbal sources for vitamin K; provide about 258% of DRI. Vitamin-K has a potential role in bone mass building through the promotion of osteoblastic activity in the bones. It also has an established role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in their brain.


How to Buy

Look for fresh cilantro sold by the bunch in the produce section of most markets, right next to the parsley. You can find dried cilantro in the spice section. Fresh cilantro should be bright green and the stems should stand up when you hold the bunch in your hand.

How to Store

Cilantro doesn’t keep fresh for long. Don’t wash it until you are ready to use it or it will degrade swiftly. To keep it fresh for up to a week, place the stems in a glass of water and cover the top loosely with a plastic bag. Keep the cilantro cool by storing it in the refrigerator. Then you can cut off the leaves as needed.

You can freeze cilantro if you blanch it first to deactivate the enzymes that will decompose it. Dip a clean bunch of cilantro into boiling water just until it wilts, then plunge it into a bowl of ice water. Pat the blanched cilantro dry. Strip the leaves off the stems and transfer to a silicone bag. Spread the leaves thinly in the bags and store flat. This will enable you to break off just what you need when you want to use some of a bag of frozen herbs.

How to Cook

Immediately before using cilantro, wash it well to remove dirt and grit. Pick off the leaves and discard the stems. Chop or tear the leaves to the desired size. Add cilantro to the recipe at the end of cooking or as a top dressing. You don’t want to cook this herb as it will lose most of its flavor. If you are making pesto or sauce, you can grind the stems as well with a food processor. Cutting with a dull knife or over chopping them will bruise the herb, and much of the flavor will end up on the cutting board surface.

Cilantro pairs well with many dishes, especially Mexican or Thai meals. The herb is also great with creamy vegetable dips and as a topping or garnish for soups and salads.

Here are some dishes that contain cilantro:

  • Salsa: A Mexican side dish
  • Guacamole: An avocado-based dip
  • Chutney: A sauce of Indian origin
  • Soups: Some may call for cilantro as a garnish to enhance their flavor

Coriander seeds have a warmer and spicier taste and are commonly used in dishes that have a spicy kick.

Here are some dishes that contain coriander:

  • Curries
  • Rice dishes
  • Soups and stews
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Dhana dal: Roasted and crushed coriander seeds, a popular Indian snack

Dry roasting or heating coriander seeds can enhance their taste and aroma. However, ground or powdered seeds lose their flavor quickly, so they’re best enjoyed fresh.

Indian Butter Chickpeas

Melissa Clark; Image David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

4-6 Servings


  • 4 tablespoons unsalted vegan butter or avocado oil
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled organic plum tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained
  • Ground cayenne (optional)
  • Cooked white or brown rice, for serving (Please rinse all rice multiple times. Let rice soak for as long as possible before rinsing.)
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves and tender stems, for serving


  1. Melt butter or oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook until golden and browned around the edges, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. (Don’t be tempted to turn the heat up to medium-high; keeping the heat on medium ensures even browning without burning the butter.)
  2. Stir in garlic and ginger, and cook another 1 minute. Stir in cumin, paprika, garam masala and cinnamon stick, and cook another 30 seconds.
  3. Add tomatoes with their juices. Using a large spoon or flat spatula, break up and smash the tomatoes in the pot (or you can use a pair of kitchen shears to cut the tomatoes while they are still in the can). Stir in coconut milk and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, and continue to cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and continuing to mash up the tomatoes if necessary to help them break down.
  4. Stir in chickpeas and a pinch of cayenne if you like. Bring the pot back up to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 10 minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
  5. Serve spooned over rice, and topped with cilantro.



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