10 Food Tips to Help Ease the Winter Blues
Want to supplement your seasonal depression treatment? Start with your plate.
Alter Your Diet, Improve Your Mood
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is believed to be caused by the changing seasons. Typically, symptoms begin to worsen around fall and reach their peak during the winter months. Symptoms of SAD are the same as other forms of depression, including feelings of hopelessness, lack of concentration, social withdrawal, and fatigue.
Treatments for SAD include medication, talk therapy, exercise, and eating a healthy diet. Use our mood-boosting recipes and meal ideas to help you fight off SAD with your fork.
Besides being high in omega-3s, salmon is a great choice for lean proteins. While a richly-marbled ribeye is undoubtedly delicious, the high saturated fat content is not good for your mood or your body. Lean proteins, however, carry plenty of amino acids like tyrosine, important stuff that positively affects the chemicals in your brain—norepinephrine and dopamine—that help control moods. Lean proteins are also a great source of energy, something you’ll need to help beat fatigue.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have been praised for their numerous health benefits, including possibly influencing your moods. One study from the University of Pittsburgh found that people with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to experience moderate or mild symptoms of depression.
The highest sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flax seeds, walnuts, and salmon. If you want to boost your omega intake, try Grilled Mustard and Bourbon-Glazed Salmon.
Stress only aggravates depression symptoms. Stress exhausts your body and it’s hard to stay in a decent mood when you’ve got nothing left to give.
Berries can be an important tool in your bag for when stress hits. Berries like blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, can help prevent the release of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland. During stressful situations, cortisol heads towards your hippocampus, a major portion of your brain that stores memories, provides emotional responses, and navigation. Basically, berries may help you keep your head on straight. Try this Blueberry Peach Smoothie for a good start to your day.
Limit Sugar Intake
If you start looking at the ingredients of the foods you eat, you’ll notice various forms of sugar. They’ll be called syrups or end in“-ose.” While they are laden in so many of the foods we eat, they’re nothing but bad news.
Sugar may give you a little happy-feely boost at first, but some research from UCLA suggests that too much sugar and too few omega-3 fatty acids can functionally change your brain and slow it down. As research is always ongoing into how the brain works, especially with depression, it’s a safe bet to stay away from sugar, especially if you’re feeling depressed. The crash after a sugar high can easily make you feel worse than before the buzz began.
Some research into folic acid’s effect on the brain has given insight into how it can boost your mood. There’s some argument that the body uses it to create serotonin—a neurotransmitter that affects mood—but there’s no conclusive evidence as to how it works. Then again, it’s not bad foryou, so including it in your diet is a good idea regardless.
You can get high amounts of folic acid in leafy greens, oatmeal, sunflower seeds, oranges, fortified cereals, lentils, black-eyed peas, and soybeans.
Like folic acid, low levels of vitamin B12 in the blood are associated with depression, but researchers can’t find definitive evidence as to why. Thankfully, it’s good for you and there are lots of tasty ways to fit it into your diet. Food sources of vitamin B12 include lean beef, clams, oysters, crab, wild salmon, eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, milk, and fortified cereals.
Get your B12 through your breakfast with a Smoked Salmon Frittata or simply with some yogurt and berries.
Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” because your body can make it by synthesizing cholesterol while absorbing natural sunshine. It’s been proven to improve moods with as little as 10 minutes of sun exposure. This is why light therapy is an important treatment for SAD. Your body can also absorb vitamin D through food.
Food sources of vitamin D include milk, egg yolks, and fish that have bones. You can also get vitamin D in supplement form.
Chocolate has always been a tasty and good way to self-medicate through down times. Unfortunately, a Hershey’s bar or a pint of chocolate ice cream isn’t the best way to do it.
Research has shown that dark chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa kicks in the production of phenylalanine, a chemical believed to up the levels of dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter similar to adrenaline in that it helps block different kinds of pain. So when you're down, pick up a bar with the highest cocoa content you can find and start feeling better instantly.
Turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan and melatonin, the calming and relaxing chemical that makes you tired after Thanksgiving dinner (besides, of course, the overwhelming amount of food eaten). It’s a great natural way to help your body cut through stressful situations.
You can get turkey in your diet simply through a turkey sandwich, but we suggest you try this Turkey Rice Bowl.
Like turkey, bananas contain tryptophan. Besides that, the carbohydrates, natural sugars, and potassium help fuel your brain. Another key ingredient in the curved yellow fruit is magnesium, which has been shown to improve sleep and reduce anxiety, two symptoms of seasonal depression.
If you’re looking for something besides a banana, try a PBB Smoothie.
Keep Learning About Food
Diet changes should never be a replacement for any medications or therapy you are currently taking, but they are a great way to supplement your current treatments. Discuss these or any other therapies with your doctor and see which are best for you.
Click your way through our other slideshows to learn how to make your food work for you.