Feeling a little SAD? You aren’t the only one! Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a common type of depression which affects many people as the days get a little shorter and colder. Now, we all might feel a little blue when we have to put our bathing suits away and dig out the snow shovel, but SAD is more debilitating. Symptoms may include irritability, avoiding social situations, feeling low in energy, and difficulty getting up in the mornings. The condition is thought to arise from decreased sunlight exposure which wreaks havoc on your internal clock, melatonin levels, and the neurotransmitter serotonin. These play a role in your sleep patterns and mood and their disruption can trigger depression.
Don’t be discouraged if this is something you may be experiencing! There are many things you can do to help keep SAD from setting in, including; medication, light therapy, exercise, and of course a good diet. Here are a few ways to naturally boost your moods with food! These five foods are especially important to healthy mood balance and are easily incorporated into a healthy, whole foods diet!
Lean proteins are rich in amino acids which act as building blocks for neurotransmitters responsible for good moods. For example, poultry is rich in a specific amino acid called “tryptophan” which is used to make 5-HTP, a precursor to serotonin. Serotonin is the chemical responsible for maintaining mood balance. Making sure you are getting enough high quality protein in your diet will help ensure your body has the nutrients it needs to feel happy.
Because our bodies can only make their own vitamin D when exposed to the sun’s rays, winter is prime time for a deficiency in this important vitamin. Foods rich in vitamin D can help replenish your body’s stores when sunlight is low. Whole milk is a great way to get vitamin D because it is fortified with the vitamin, and it contains the fat required to utilize it. If you are dairy intolerant, you can still get a non-dairy fortified milk of your choice. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin which means that it is better absorbed when eaten with a source of fat. Dairy products like cheese, plain yogurt, and eggs are a great way to include more of this vitamin as well.
These nuts are known as the ultimate brain food, not just because they resemble one! Walnuts are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which are important for healthy brain function and positive moods (1). Walnuts aren’t the only plant source of these healthful fats. You can also find them in flax, chia seeds, and hemp seeds.
One of the most powerful foods in fighting seasonal depression! It contains three key nutrients for good moods: omega 3 fatty acids, high quality protein, and vitamin D. All of these nutrients have shown to be crucial for healthy moods and salmon is a delicious source of all of them. Other fatty fish like tuna and sardines are great options as well!
The food of the Gods, but also the food for great moods! Dark chocolate is rich in polyphenols which have been shown to have a positive effect on mood (2). Be wary of sugar content though, as many chocolate containing foods are very sweet. Sugar will have a negative effect on your mood so make sure you are eating chocolate with the highest cocoa content! Another option is to add cocoa to savory dishes such as in chili or chicken mole.
Eating more of these five foods is a great way to boost your mood and keep seasonal depression from setting in! Remember that if healthy food still isn’t cutting it, you may need to talk to your doctor for further help. Meanwhile, if you are needing some inspiration for using the 5 foods listed above, try these delicious recipes!
1.University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Omega 3 Fatty Acids Influence Mood, Impulsivity And Personality, Study Indicates.” ScienceDaily. 4 March 2006.
2. Pase M, Scholey A, Pipingas A, Kras M, Nolidin K. Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive mood states but not cognitive performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Psychopharmacol. 2013. 27(5):451-458.