How Food Can Help Fix Seasonal Depression

Words: Katrina Rose Wind

As we enter winter, the days inevitably get shorter and the nights get colder. You, like many others, might be affected by seasonal depression and that’s ok. The good news is, you can fix those winter blues by making a few adjustments to your diet. Research has shown that certain foods can substantially boost your mood.

Why Gut Health Is Important

Your gut and your brain are more connected than you think. In fact, 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut. If your gut is unhappy, you’re unhappy. When the balance between the good and bad bacteria is disrupted in the gut, diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may occur. Taking medication to help fix those illnesses may play a role in influencing mood. Which could also explain why mood disorders are so prevalent in people with IBS.

There have been studies that show that gut bacteria produces many other neurotransmitters other than serotonin, it is also responsible for producing dopamine and norepinephrine which impacts your mood. They are also responsible for depression, anxiety, motivation and reward. Scientists have found that consuming and exposure to good bacteria (i.e. clean foods) are important for a balanced brain and a more elevated mood.

How Your Diet Can Impact Your Mood

seasonal depression

As noted above, your gut health is correlated with mental health in some way. With that in mind, it’s not hard to see that certain foods can play a role in deepening your seasonal depression or elevating your mood. Mood-modifying chemicals in the brain can be affected by your diet, such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.

After eating protein, dopamine and norepinephrine are released and can help with alertness and increase our concentration and energy levels. Foods that release these two neurotransmitters are: poultry, fish, meat, legumes, dairy, eggs and soy.

Serotonin is responsible for making us feel relaxed or calm, and just generally improving your mood. This chemical is released in the brain after eating carbohydrates (the good kind), foods like fruit, grains, bread and vegetables.

The problem with the weather changing is that people start to generally feel down, and when that seasonal depression starts to kick in, you sometimes reach for the sugary and processed snacks to help elevate your mood. Those foods do more harm than you actually think. In other words, it’s better to stick to a more whole foods diet and stay away from processed foods that not only affect your body in a negative way but also your mental health.

What Food You Should Be Eating

There are certain foods that are proven to help boost your immune system, mood and overall health. Not only is it important to have a healthy immune system through the winter months to avoid sickness but also to help that seasonal depression.

seasonal depression

Lean proteins are a great source of energy and can help uplift your mood because of the amino acids that it carries. They are also easier to digest than high-fat meats which can make you feel lethargic and sluggish. Foods like, chicken breasts, turkey, lean pork and beef, fish, legumes, tofu, eggs and low-fat (not fat-free) dairy.

Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their health benefits, including possibly elevating your mood. Fatty fish is a great source of omega-3’s, fish like salmon or tuna. You can also find high levels of omega-3’s in walnuts and flax seeds.

We’ve been hearing for years how fermented food is a great source of probiotics and does wonders for your gut health. As noted above, there is a direct correlation between gut health and your mental health. Foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi and yoghurt can help your mood and improve your gut health.

seasonal depression

Dark chocolate is a great source of polyphenols which are a type of antioxidant. Moreover, dark chocolate has feel-good compounds, such as caffeine and theobromine. Next time you’re craving something sweet maybe think twice about reaching for that Bar One and swap it for a 70% or higher dark chocolate bar instead.

Fibre is also important for your mood and health. Choosing unprocessed carbohydrates that are rich in fibre is what’s going to really help with that seasonal depression. Foods like legumes, fresh fruits, all types of vegetables, whole grains,  potatoes (with the skin on) will leave you full and satisfied.

Berries can actually help prevent the release of cortisol which is a hormone that is associated with stress and anxiety. Eating berries like raspberries, strawberries and blueberries can help minimise your cortisol levels.

seasonal depression

Folic acid rich foods like dark leafy greens can boost your mood. There’s some evidence that the body uses it to create serotonin, which is the happiness hormone. Not just leafy greens but also oatmeal, lentils, soybeans, sunflower seeds are filled with folic acid.

Apart from all the foods you should eat, you should also try to minimise your sugar intake as well as avoid packaged or processed foods. Foods that are filled with sugar and not enough omega-3 fatty acids can functionally change your brain and slow it down. And while sugary foods may taste good and may boost your mood for a short while, in the long run the crash after a sugar high can actually end up leaving you feeling worse than before. If you want some recipe inspiration, check out our round up of mood-boosting recipes.

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