Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that can happen when the seasons change. Typically, symptoms begin as summer ends and turns to fall and then they peak during the winter months. When the weather starts to turn cold and dreary it may bring on the winter blues. Symptoms of SAD can be the same as other forms of depression, including feelings of hopelessness, lack of concentration, social withdrawal, and fatigue. Treatments for SAD include medication, speaking with a therapist, regular exercise, and eating a healthy diet. When feeling the blues, you may find yourself snacking more, emotionally eating or choosing foods for comfort. Following a healthy diet during these seasonal times can help improve your mood and combat the blues.
Let’s look at ways to improve your mood with these healthy tips to follow this winter:
- Cut back on added sugar. Foods sweetened with sugar such as soda, sweetened beverages, cakes and cookies might give you a quick energy burst but their low nutritional value could lead you to low energy and a down mood hours after eating them. Choose natural sugar from fruits for an energy burst. Fruits are full of vitamins and nutrients that can help improve your mood. Oranges, strawberries and mangoes are full of vitamin C which is an immune boosting vitamin to help keep you healthy. Bananas have magnesium which may improve sleep and decrease anxiety – two possible symptoms of seasonal depression.
- Choose foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. This healthy fat is linked to heart health but can also improve your mood. Salmon is a great source of omega 3 fats. Pair salmon with a whole grain such as quinoa and plenty of veggies for a healthy meal. Other sources of omega-3 fat include pasture raised eggs, walnuts and flax seed.
- Add cinnamon to your drinks and food. The scent of cinnamon can be very calming. Sprinkling cinnamon on a bowl of oatmeal or into hot tea is a nice way of warming you up on a cold day and gives you a burst from the refreshing smell. Cinnamon is also shown to regulate blood sugar. Keeping blood sugar stable can help with preventing cravings for sugary foods.
- Bring on the sunshine. Exposing yourself to 10 minutes of sunshine per day can help boost vitamin D levels. Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, may be helpful to your mood. Food sources of vitamin D include milk, yogurt, egg yolks, mushrooms, and fish that have bones. You can also get vitamin D in supplement form. Check out more on Vitamin D here.
- Choose carbohydrates that are high in fiber. Foods rich in fiber are digested slower and help to keep you feeling fuller longer which can keep blood sugar stable. Choosing whole grains instead of refined grains is a good place to start and choosing more vegetables and fruits to boost your fiber intake. Root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, are a great choice as they are complex carbohydrates which are full of fiber.
- Include foods rich in folic acid. Folic acid may increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps increase happiness in our brain. Dark green leafy veggies are a good source of folic acid along with fortified cereal, oatmeal, sunflower seeds and black-eyed peas.
- Add more vitamin B-12. Low levels of vitamin B-12 have been associated with depression. There are many ways to increase B-12 in your diet as it is found in lean beef, clams, oysters, crab, wild salmon, eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, milk and fortified cereals.
- Choose lean proteins. Choosing proteins high in saturated fat is not good for your heart health or your mood. Lean proteins are a great source of energy and are full of amino acids, which may positively affect your mood. Turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan and melatonin, which are the calming and relaxing chemicals that may make you tired after Thanksgiving dinner. Include turkey more often in your diet to experience some of its calming effects.
- Warm up with a cup of hot cocoa. Cocoa is a great source of polyphenols. Polyphenols are an antioxidant, which can help with your mood thanks to their anti-inflammatory effects. A cup of hot cocoa can warm you up, give you a nice, sweet treat and help your mood.
- Keep good healthy eating habits. Avoid skipping meals and eat balanced meals. Going for long hours between eating often can lead to feelings of hunger which result in overeating when it is time for your meal. Try to eat at regularly scheduled times as this consistency can help keep you on track and your mood stable.