An assortment of brain-boosting, blood-sugar-leveling foods may help relieve the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
By Jessica Migala
Medically Reviewed by Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDCES
Seasonal depression, more formally known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a common mood disorder characterized by low energy, hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, and sleep problems that coincide with the change in seasons, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
The cause of SAD is likely multifactorial, and may include imbalances in mood-regulating brain chemicals, as well as a lack of vitamin D (from less sunlight), and an overproduction of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin.
Typical treatment involves light therapy, talk therapy, antidepressant medications, and supplements of vitamin D (which we normally get from sunlight, which is scarce during the winter).
Many clinicians also suggest another way to alleviate symptoms: diet.
“Nutrition habits can definitely have an impact on your mood,” says Nicole Avena, PhD, a research neuroscientist and nutrition and diet expert in New York City. “Variety and balance is important. If your eating pattern is unbalanced, it can upset other aspects of your health, including mood,” she says.
While research definitively linking a specific diet and relief of SAD symptoms is lacking, there’s good evidence to suggest that the following 10 foods support mood and brain function.
Salmon and Rainbow Trout
Sardines and lemons in oil
Foods that include omega-3 fatty acids, which support brain health, and vitamin D, are a one-two punch. Salmon and rainbow trout are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and rich in vitamin D, says the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
blueberries in cartons
Many people are drawn to high carb junk food for a feel-good fix. But the payoff is short-lived. “Eating high amounts of added sugar, which can cause highs followed by lows, can cause swings in mood or irritability,” says Ginger Hultin, RDN, the owner of Champagne Nutrition in Seattle and author of Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep, Strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries offer a sweet taste without a ton of added sugar.
Whole Grain Bread + Protein
poached egg avocado toast
Adding some fresh chicken or hummus, cheese, and vegetables to whole grain bread may be the perfect mood-supporting lunch. “Combining healthy carbs and protein can be a good way to support your mood in the winter because the protein will keep you full longer and the carbs will give your body the proper sugar it needs without the crash,” says Dr. Avena.
Green, Black, or White Tea
pouring green tea
People suffering from SAD sometimes over-consume coffee in search of a mood lift. Tea provides a dose of caffeine, but a milder one, and it has other brain benefits. Tea consumption is associated with a 31 percent lower risk of depression, according to a review published in Nutrients in June 2019. That may be because of the brew’s unique compounds, including teasaponin, L-theanine, and EGCG (in green tea), all of which affect the neurotransmitter dopamine, reduce bodily inflammation, and lessen the body’s stress response, say researchers.
Green Leafy Vegetables
fresh kale in basket
We’re talking spinach, bok choy, kale, collards, and other greens. These are packed with B vitamins that are also critical for brain function, says Hultin. In fact, some research in Nutrients in September 2019 suggests that an overall deficiency in this group of vitamins is associated with mood disorders in some people. Restoring those levels, therefore, may help improve mood. While the study did not find that supplementing with B vitamins decreased depression or anxiety, it was found to make a difference in lowering stress levels, which can contribute to winter angst.
In a study from Finland, published in Neuropsychobiology in July 2017, the percentage of people affected by seasonal affective disorder was four times higher in vegetarians compared with omnivores.
Researchers suggest that it might be the lack of certain nutrients, like B12, from animal products, as well as a greater focus on carbohydrate-rich foods (which vegetarians tend to prioritize) that led to lagging energy. If you are someone who eats animal-based proteins, make sure that you’re eating these types of foods during the winter season to keep your vigor up…
Source: Everyday Health
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