1 – Pumpkin Seeds
Although the direct underlying cause of SAD cannot be identified clearly, there is some evidence to suggest that it could be a relic of our old ‘hibernation’ instincts, with the lack of natural light during the winter months influencing our production of important hormones such as melatonin and serotonin which help to regulate our mood and sleep patterns. This could explain why, in cases of SAD, lethargy is so common alongside feelings of low mood or anxiety.
Therefore, if you suffer from SAD, raising your serotonin levels is extremely important, which is where pumpkin seeds come into the picture. Rich in immune-boosting zinc and tryptophan, an amino acid that is needed to produce serotonin, pumpkins are a tasty snack that can be sprinkled over sweet and savoury meals. If you need some inspiration, just check out my favourite pumpkin seed recipe below!
My favourite pumpkin seed recipe
Pumpkin Spice Breakfast Bars
2 – Salmon
Low fat diets might be on trend at the moment but they definitely don’t take into account that not all fats are created equal and that your body actually needs a decent amount of healthy fats to function properly. For example, vitamin D is fat soluble so you need at least some fats to help absorb this crucial nutrient, plus fatty acids help to support the proper conduction of messages along your neural pathways! If these messages start to go astray then it can sometimes promote the development of this depressive behaviour.
Salmon and other oily fish are an excellent source of healthy fats, including omega-3, which may help to maintain healthy levels of happy hormones such as dopamine and serotonin. But what if you’re vegan or vegetarian? Well, don’t worry as ALA, a type of omega-3, can still be widely sourced in plant-based foods (as I will go on to discuss!), however, if you’re more worried about your intake of DHA and EPA specifically, you could try Biocare’s vegan-friendly Phytomega-3 supplement which is available with our friends over at Jan de Vries.
3 – Chia seeds
Chia seeds have definitely soared in popularity and for good reason! These small seeds are nutrient powerhouses, supplying plenty of fibre, protein and omega-3 ALA fatty acids. As I’ve just discussed, omega-3 is definitely worth having in your dietary arsenal if you suffer from SAD so chia seeds are a good option. It also helps that they’re extremely easy to incorporate into your diet, similar to pumpkin seeds! You can add them to smoothies, to bakes, cakes or simply sprinkle over your salad or porridge!
My favourite chia seed recipe
Cinnamon & Chia Seed Energy Balls
4 – Grapefruit
Grapefruits aren’t just an old-fashioned breakfast option for your elderly relatives – these zesty fruits are packed with all kinds of beneficial nutrients, including antioxidant vitamin C, which can help to protect your blood vessels and respiratory tract, as well as folate, otherwise known as vitamin B9. When it comes to mood disorders like SAD, folate is crucial as, similar to tryptophan, it can also be used to synthesise serotonin and dopamine. That’s why some studies are now suggesting that a combination of folate and vitamin B12 should be considered to help treat depressive symptoms.1
Grapefruit is just one excellent source of this nutrient though – you can also find it in other citrus fruits such as lemons, limes and oranges or even legumes like lentils.
My favourite grapefruit recipes
Avocado & Grapefruit Salad
5 – Spinach
Dark leafy greens are ideal if you’re feeling sad as they contain some of the best nutrients to help treat this condition, from iron, to vitamin C, to B vitamins and magnesium. I’ve already mentioned the benefits of some of these nutrients so here I’m going to concentrate mainly on vitamin B12 and magnesium. Vitamin B12, I mentioned earlier but it’s really important to emphasise how great this largely unknown nutrient is.
Vitamin B12, for example, helps to support your myelin sheath, a layer of fats and proteins which help to insulate your nerve fibres. If your nerve fibres aren’t insulated properly it can lead to all sorts of neurological problems. Research has also linked B12 deficiency to depression, with one study finding that low levels of vitamin B12 correlated with higher levels of depression in participants.2
Moving away from vitamin B12 for a moment, let’s look at magnesium! Magnesium is essential for over 300 different chemical reactions within your body and supports everything, from your metabolism to your sleep patterns. In cases where magnesium is lacking, it can also have a knock-on effect on serotonin, lowering your production and potentially affecting your mood.3
Spinach helps to provide a decent amount of both of these nutrients so it’s definitely worth including in your diet. Fortunately you can easily do so as I demonstrate in the recipe below!
My favourite spinach recipe
Spinach & Potato Curry
6 – Beetroot
This vividly coloured root vegetable has certainly captured our imagination in recent ye
ars, being a great source of nutrients such vitamin C, folate and iron. However, when it comes to fighting off the symptoms of SAD, beetroot also packs a secret weapon – betaine! Betaine is an amino acid that, in addition to many other benefits, helps to increase our levels of a specific compound called s-adenosylmethionine (SAM). This then goes on to increase our levels of serotonin, plus it can also boost our production of dopamine too!4
This is good news all round so I’d definitely recommend incorporating more of this vegetable into your diet. You can do this by utilising it more in recipes like the one below or, you could try it in the form of a juice. Biotta offer a fantastic, natural Beetroot Juice that’s great when it comes to not only supporting your mood, but also your circulation and endurance too!
My favourite beetroot recipe
Roasted Beetroot Dip
7 – Eggs
I’ve not spoken about vitamin D in any particular length yet but suffice to say, it has a very interesting relationship with SAD. There are some that suggest the lack of sunlight during the winter months triggers vitamin D deficiency, which could in turn stimulate the symptoms of SAD. Studies thus far are mixed on the matter but low levels of vitamin D are linked to depressive symptoms and there is proof that there are vitamin D receptors in the brain so it’s still worthwhile looking at ways to increase your intake.5
Eggs are one of the few food sources of vitamin D out there and they help to provide a decent helping of the nutrient in addition to other valuable components such as selenium, antioxidants like lutein, plus our old friend tryptophan! Eggs are also incredibly versatile – you can scramble them, boil them, poach them or even fry them so there’s no excuse not to be able to incorporate them into your diet in some way unless you are vegan or vegetarian, in which case I have the perfect alternative coming up next!
My favourite egg recipe
Poached Eggs with Spinach on Wholemeal Toast
8 – Mushrooms
If you’re vegan or vegetarian then mushrooms are a good alternative to eggs if you’re after a plant-based source of vitamin D. However, not just any mushrooms will do – when it comes to vitamin D, shiitake mushrooms tend to be the best source. Compared to button mushrooms, these boast a stronger flavour and are great for mixing into stir-fries and curries. In addition to vitamin D, they also contain a decent amount of vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium.
Nevertheless, it’s worth mentioning that food sources of vitamin D will only take you so far – the best source by far is still sunlight but, if this is in short supply where you are during the winter months, it might be worth investing in a supplement. The problem is, most conventional supplements contain far, far too much vitamin D which is why I’d recommend sticking to a gentler alternative such as our Balance Mineral Drink. Not only can this help to combat the symptoms of fatigue, it also contains around 50% of your daily vitamin D intake, plus it’s completely vegan-friendly!