As winter approaches and the days get shorter, it's not uncommon to experience a slight decrease in mood and energy. But for some people, the changes that occur at this time of year are much more significant. However, there are ways to help boost mood during winter months, and it can be as easy as choosing the right foods to snack on.
What is SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), often called "winter blues," is a type of depression that only occurs during a specific time of the year - most often, beginning in the fall and continuing throughout the winter months. It is thought to be linked to changes in the body caused by reduced sunshine in winter, and it can cause exhaustion, feelings of hopelessness and depression, irritability, and changes in sleeping patterns and appetite.
While very severe cases of SAD should be treated with a doctor's help, milder mood changes can be ameliorated at home just by making a few changes to your diet.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Adding foods high in omega-3 fatty acids to your diet can relieve symptoms of depression. While scientists have not yet figured out exactly how these fatty acids affect mood, several studies have shown them to be useful in treating SAD.
Foods with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids include tree nuts such as pecan, walnut, and macadamia, as well as seeds like chia and flax. One great way to increase intake of these nuts and seeds is to add them to a salad - like a beet salad with pecans. Nuts are also a common addition to many pies and other desserts for their popular flavor, while chia and flax seeds can be added to baked goods, like muffins and breads, for a delicious way to eat a serving.
Symptoms of winter-onset SAD can also be reduced by eating foods high in vitamin D, according to several studies. This vitamin is sometimes known as the sunshine vitamin, because it is produced in the skin when exposed to sunlight. Since SAD has been linked to less sun, it may also be linked to a shortage of vitamin D in the body, so adding this essential vitamin to your diet can help shake off the low mood caused by SAD.
Oranges are one of the most popular foods high in vitamin D, but another surprising source of the vitamin is soy. You can add soy to your diet by consuming any soy products. Add soymilk to your morning coffee, or have it with your cereal. Tofu is another popular and versatile soy product - use it in a tofu veggie stir fry with sacha inchi oil or as a substitute for eggs in a veggie scramble.
These widely available foods can be purchased at nearly any grocery store around the world, making them an easy way to help deal with SAD. When the days begin to get shorter, be sure to stock up on these foods to help beat the winter blues.
- The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, Vitamin D vs broad spectrum phototherapy in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder, 1999
- University of Maryland Medical Center, Depression
- Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Alternative Medicine Review, Neurobehavioral Aspects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Possible Mechanisms and Therapeutic Value in Major Depression, 2003