Don’t feel SAD, a diet change could help battle the winter blues
At this time of year, do you start to lose energy, feel depressed, want to sleep for longer, and gain weight because you’re craving naughty carbs? Chances are that you’re affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as SAD – the winter blues.
The nutrients that our bodies are getting can have a big impact on our mood. One of the first to take a dive in winter is vitamin D, otherwise known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, as our bodies need sunlight in order to produce it.
Nutritionist Sally Beare explains: “It’s unlikely that you’ll get enough vitamin D because there often isn’t enough sunlight in summer, plus many of us spend too much time indoors, so people end up being deficient in vitamin D.”
In addition to sunlight, you may need to add some extra vitamin D, and you can do this through your diet. Sally recommends oily fish, egg yolks, and mushrooms. It’s also in milk and added to some fortified spreads and breakfast cereals.
Other foods, regardless of vitamin D content, could also hold the key to easing SAD-like symptoms, and there are plenty of mood-boosting munchies to consider. Our brains operate on food, so what we eat can make the difference between low and high spirits.
“Lots of people don’t eat enough B vitamins because they tend to be in protein foods, and people tend to ‘carb out’ in winter, but we need them to make neurotransmitters in the brain.
“Foods with vitamin B include yeast spreads, nuts, seeds, beans, chicken and fish. They’re also in meat and cheese, but it’s best to keep these to a minimum as they’re high in saturated fats.
“White carbs will deprive you of B vitamins, which are all in the brown part that is polished off grains such as wheat and rice during processing.
“Sugary foods like cake, pastries and biscuits are a problem because they cause wild swings in blood sugar levels which leads to a mood rollercoaster. So ditch white carbs, swap to whole grains, and eat more lean protein, which all provide long-lasting energy to help overcome winter sluggishness and keep moods even.”
Another way to chase away the winter blues is to eat foods which boost levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter which produces feelings of pleasure.
You can increase serotonin levels by eating foods which contain tryptophan. Good sources are bananas, peanuts, avocados, oats, cottage cheese, turkey and chicken, fish, dried dates, yoghurt, red meat, eggs, sesame, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
“Another thing you need for levelling moods is omega 3 fats, which are vital for proper brain function and to keep the spirits lifted, while low levels are linked with depression and mood disorders. Omega 3 fats come from oily fish, ground flax seed, specialist oils, walnuts and krill oil.
“We also need omega 6 fats. Seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds are rich sources.
“Flax seed is useful as it contains both omega 3 and 6 fats. Try adding it to a smoothie with a banana and oat milk for a mood-boosting drink. You can also add cacao nibs, which provide mood-enhancing theobromine.”
We also need a range of minerals. Sally says: “Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of the mood-boosting mineral selenium, while eggs have zinc which helps us feel more alert and energetic.
“Calcium and magnesium work together to help you feel relaxed and sleep properly, so eat green leafy vegetables and seaweed, which are good sources. Yoghurt has calcium too, and it’s more digestible than milk.”
Sally Beare is a nutritional therapist at the Natural Health Clinic in Cotham, and author of ’50 Secrets Of The World’s Longest Living People’ and ‘The Live Longer Diet’. See www.sallybear.com.