Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sometimes called the “winter blues”, is a type of depression that many people suffer from. But it is much more serious than a simple case of the blues.
It is associated with the changing seasons. Often, the symptoms begin to worsen with the onset of fall and peak during the winter months, usually as a response to the shortened daylight hours. However, it can even occur during the seasonal shift from spring to summer.
SAD causes the serotonin and melatonin levels in your body to drop, which give rise to different symptoms. Typical symptoms of SAD are feelings of hopelessness, lack of concentration, social withdrawal, anxiousness, sadness, anxiety, lethargy, and fatigue.
SAD is a serious condition that requires professional treatment. Light therapy and exercise, as well as prescription medication, are all used to combat SAD.
In addition, certain foods can help you deal with this problem. These foods are great sources of the nutrients your body and brain need to stay alert, productive and content.
Here are the top 10 foods that help fight the winter blues or seasonal affective disorder.
1. Dark Chocolate
One good food to fight SAD is dark chocolate. The polyphenols in dark chocolate help elevate your mood and relieve anxiety and depression.
The flavonoids in the cocoa found in dark chocolate help increase blood flow to the brain, as well as having a protective and anti-inflammatory effect on neurons.
A 2011 study published in Antioxidants & Redox Signaling reports that cocoa has beneficial effects on cognitive functioning and mood (1).
Another study published in 2013 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology highlights the positive effects of cocoa polyphenols on mood in healthy participants. The study states that cocoa polyphenols can ameliorate symptoms associated with clinical anxiety or depression (2).
To fight depressive symptoms, always choose dark chocolate with less added sugar. All you have to do is eat about 1-ounce per day or a few times per week.
Salmon, a popular cold-water fish, is another food that can help fight SAD.
Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids – particularly DHA and EPA – that help improve symptoms associated with depression. Fatty acids boost production of dopamine and serotonin, the feel-good chemicals in the brain. On top of that, these essential fatty acids have been linked to improved memory and healthy brain function.
A 2006 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 (3).
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Nutrition & Intermediary Metabolism reports that a dietary long-chain omega-3 fatty acid deficiency may represent a modifiable risk factor for depression (4).
This cold-water fish also provides your body a good amount of vitamin D.
Eating a few bananas a day can help keep you happy and alleviate SAD symptoms.
Bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, which helps you relax, improves your mood and generally makes you feel happier. Tryptophan also works with two other hormones, noradrenaline, and dopamine, to lift your mood and promote relaxation.
According to a 2015 study published in the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, consuming more dietary tryptophan resulted in less depressive symptoms and decreased anxiety (5).
Bananas are also loaded with vitamin B6, potassium and magnesium, which are all powerful nutrients that have stress-reducing properties and help fight symptoms associated with depression.
4. Greek Yogurt
Good microbes living in your intestines may influence your mood and anxiety level. Eating Greek yogurt on a daily basis can help maintain the level of good microbes in your intestines and therefore diminish depressive symptoms.
A 2017 study published in Gastroenterology found that people who took certain probiotics showed improved depression scores. It adds to the whole field of the microbiota-gut-brain axis, providing evidence that bacteria affect behavior (6).
A 2017 study by the University of Virginia Health System reports that probiotics found in yogurt can reverse depression symptoms (7).
Apart from probiotics, the potassium and calcium in Greek yogurt help promote feelings of well-being and happiness.
5. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are the perfect food to deal with SAD because of their magnesium content. This mineral helps keep you feeling calm and relaxed, and its deficiency is often linked to problems like SAD.
A 2006 study published in the Medical Hypotheses journal reports that a magnesium deficiency could cause depression, behavioral disturbances, and irritability – all reversible with magnesium repletion (8).
Correcting a magnesium deficiency can help fight depression symptoms. A 2017 study published in PLOS ONE reports that magnesium supplementation is effective for improving mild-to-moderate depression symptoms in adults (9).
Magnesium also promotes relaxation and better sleep, which help in the treatment of SAD. To get adequate magnesium, eating 1 to 2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds a day is enough. Additionally, eat pumpkin seeds on a regular basis to enjoy multiple health benefits.
6. Green Tea
Sipping a few cups of green tea throughout the day can also give your mood a boost and help fight SAD symptoms.
It is the compound L-theanine in green tea that helps reduce symptoms of depression. L-theanine, an amino acid, has a soothing, calming effect on people. It also alters levels of neurotransmitters in the brain like serotonin and dopamine that can affect moods.
Plus, the caffeine in green tea works as a stimulant that can temporarily elevate your mood.
A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that more frequent consumption of green tea was associated with a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms in the community-dwelling older population (10).
Also, a 2014 study published in Public Health & Nutrition reports that higher consumption of green tea, coffee and caffeine may confer protection against depression (11).
So, enjoy 2 to 4 cups of green tea daily to help lift your mood as well as improve your overall health.
Eating eggs daily can help fight any kind of mood disorder, including SAD.
It is one of the few foods that contain vitamin D, which plays a role in brain health and neuron functioning. In fact, low levels of vitamin D have been associated with individuals who suffer from depression.
One large egg has about 40 IU of vitamin D. This vitamin is only found in the yolks, so you need to eat the whole egg.
Eggs are also rich in vitamin B12 that helps improve your mood and keep stress at bay. Furthermore, they contain other B vitamins like B6 and folate that promote mental and emotional well-being.
Plus, egg yolks are a good source of lecithin, which works as a mood stabilizer.
Spinach is another food that can help fight SAD.
Being rich in folic acid, spinach aids production of serotonin that helps regulate your mood, keeping your mental health strong.
A 2005 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests that oral doses of both folic acid and vitamin B12 should be tried to improve treatment outcomes in patients with depression (12).
Spinach is also high in iron, which helps keep red blood cells oxygenated and your body energized. Plus, it is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which may help alleviate depression in the winter months.
This leafy green is also loaded with other mood-boosting nutrients, like magnesium and zinc.
It’s one of the most expensive spices in the world, but saffron works effectively as a natural mood lifter. When you are suffering from SAD, it could be well worth the investment.
Saffron is high in carotenoids and B vitamins that help increase the levels of serotonin and other chemicals in the brain that are associated with depression. In fact, it exerts antidepressant effects by keeping balanced levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
A 2013 study published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine states that saffron supplementation can improve the symptoms of depression in adults that have any major depressive disorder (13).
Also, the antioxidants in saffron are thought to help clean up free radicals in the body to help protect brain cells from oxidative stress, which can worsen the symptoms in people with mood issues.
To reap the antidepressive benefits of saffron, take 15 mg of dried saffron extract twice daily. Consult your doctor before taking any new supplements and to ensure the correct dosage for your health status. You can also use saffron in cooking, milkshakes or smoothies.
10. Brazil Nuts
To fight depression symptoms, munching on a few Brazil nuts daily is highly recommended.
Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, which has natural mood-boosting properties. In fact, a low level of selenium is often linked to a poorer mood.
A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that eating 2 Brazil nuts daily is as effective for increasing the body’s selenium status as (14).
Plus, Brazil nuts are loaded with several B vitamins that help improve mood symptoms and mental health quality of life in people suffering from depression.