As temperatures drop and daylight dwindles, 10 million Americans will suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. According to Kelly Springer, MS, RD, CDN, and founder of KellysChoice.org, symptoms of SAD include low energy, trouble sleeping, sluggishness, feeling agitated, worthless, or hopeless, losing interest in your favorite activities, appetite changes, and weight gain.
“Typical treatment of SAD is in the form of counseling, antidepressants, and light therapy, but food may be able to help you through this difficult time of year as well,” says Springer. “Different nutrients work for our bodies in different ways including helping our brain and increasing serotonin which have been linked to lessening depression.”
She adds, “The key is truly to create a healthy well balanced plate focused on lean proteins, whole grains, and consume a variety of fruits and vegetables to eat the rainbow. This will ensure that your body has all the nutrients and antioxidants it needs to function properly.”
Here are 8 foods that will help lift your mood, and boost your overall wellness until spring has sprung:
Springer says this super-versatile fish is rich in vitamin B12, which is needed to make dopamine and serotonin, mood boosting neurotransmitters. Other B12 sources include clams, and trout.
Certain dairy products contain pre and probiotics that aid in healthy digestion. “Recently studies have been exploring the relationship between your gut and your brain. To help optimize this connection reach for yogurt or kefir,” advises Springer.
Taken together, folate and B12 help serotonin uptake. Food sources of folate include legumes, nuts, fruits, and dark leafy greens. But Springer says, “Thirty to fifty percent of Americans cannot break down folate in their bodies, therefore you may need a methylated form via a supplement.”
4. Whole grains
Not all carbs are bad! Complex carbohydrates also boost serotonin in the brain. “Consider eating whole wheat pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, or faro,” suggests Springer, adding, “They work best in combination with a lean protein.”
“Healthy fats like omega 3 fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid are so important for optimizing brain health and serotonin uptake,” emphasizes Springer. Walnuts, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are great sources of this healthy fat; if you’re not a flaxseed fan, try adding more fatty fish to your diet like salmon, tuna, and sardines.
Get serious about citrus, as vitamin C works with dopamine to help regulate mood.
These mini-molluscs are a great source of zinc which acts as a mood regulator in the body. Not into oysters? Springer recommends bulking up on pumpkin and squash seeds, and beef or lamb for more zinc.
This spicy superfood, the active ingredient in which is curcumin, has many health benefits, and is an easy add-on to many meals. Springer explains, “The BCM-95 curcumin formula has been clinically studied and is the world’s most bioactive and bioavailable turmeric extract. It has been associated with lowering depression and elevating mood.”
Additionally, Springer advises staying away from processed foods high in saturated fat, sodium, and sugar, which can exacerbate depressive symptoms. Alcohol, a depressant, can also decrease your quality of sleep, and leave you feeling exhausted the next day. And contrary to popular belief, Springer notes, “The caffeine in coffee and other products has been found to have an adverse effect on depression. Limit yourself to one cup a day and finish it before noon, or try green tea which has been found to have a positive impact on mood.”