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lady-walkingExperts at the National Institutes of Health believe depression is likely caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors that together may trigger a range of symptoms from sadness, fatigue and loss of appetite to headaches, digestive problems and difficulty concentrating.

For many people, the change in seasons can bring on depressive symptoms—especially in fall and winter when colder temperatures and shorter days (meaning less light) leave them feeling gloomy and drained of energy. But while we’re often tempted to stay indoors and hibernate during these months, a new study from the University of Michigan says we should do just the opposite.

Results of the study, published in the journal Ecopsychology, reveal that depression may be greatly reduced simply by taking a walk in nature. They recruited nearly 2,000 participants and found that those who engaged in weekly group nature walks showed fewer signs of depression and stress and instead enjoyed enhanced mental health and improved overall well-being—even if they had recently experience a traumatic life event such as a illness, unemployment or the death of a loved one.

Studies tell us seasonal changes affect women more often than men, and women are also 70% more likely than men to experience depression during their lifetime. In addition to walking outdoors, a healthy diet also supports mental health. Because a diet high in inflammatory foods such as sugars, refined and starchy carbohydrates, processed meats and trans fats has been linked to a 41% higher risk of depression in women according to Harvard researchers, fill your plate instead with anti-inflammatory foods such as low-sugar fruits, non-starchy vegetables, healthy fats and plenty of protein.

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When it comes to weight loss success, experts now agree that the quality of the calories you consume is as important as the quantity of calories. Simply put, eating the right foods for a balanced gut (meaning the right amount of good or neutral vs. harmful bacteria) is a key factor in whether or not you gain or lose weight.

By eating foods that nourish the healthy bacteria in your digestive tract—such as foods high in prebiotic fiber and those foods that contain beneficial bacteria, like living and fermented foods—your body will absorb fewer calories from food, experience fewer cravings, and store less fat. But what about those moments of weakness when you crave something sweet? Here are three delicious yet gut-healthy recipes you can feel good about:

choc-mousse

Cacao, Avocado& Chia Mousse
Serves: 4
Ingredients:
1 avocado
¼ cup cacao powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
2 tbsp. chia seeds

Directions: Place avocado, vanilla, and almond milk in food processor and process until smooth; stir in chia seeds. Transfer mixture to medium bowl; refrigerate 1 hour. Scoop into individual bowls and serve chilled.

Lemon Bliss
Serves: 1
Ingredients:
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
2 tbsp. chia seeds
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
12 drops vanilla stevia
1 tsp. lemon extract

Directions: Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Chill 2 hours. Serve cold.

Nut Butter Cups
Serving Size: 2 Serves: 16
Ingredients:
5 tbsp. coconut cream concentrate (coconut butter)
5 tbsp. coconut oil (best if in liquid form)
6 tbsp. cacao powder (see Note)
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lo han (monk fruit) sweetener
3 tbsp. nut butter of choice (cashew, sunflower, almond)

Directions: Mix all ingredients except nut butter in a medium bowl. Place ½ tsp. of mixture into each cup of a mini muffin pan. Freeze about 10 minutes. Set remaining mixture aside. Add ¼ tsp. nut butter atop each frozen “cup.” Add another ½ tsp. of the cacao mixture on top of the nut butter; freeze again about 15 minutes (to harden). Note: Cacao powder is a less processed version of cocoa powder and is available at health food stores.

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