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Discover 12 Mood-Boosting Foods for Seasonal Depression

Read about a dozen mood-boosting foods that fight seasonal depression, a disorder that affects people during the winter months.

Photo by Brad West on Unsplash

The colder months start with yummy holiday food, family gatherings, and spending time with loved ones. Then January and February hit North America. Unless you live in southern portions of Florida, Texas, California, or the entirety of Hawaii, frigid temperatures descend for the rest of the season.

People tend to stay inside more often during this time, and there's less direct sunlight. Slight hormonal changes in the winter might also push people to feel a bit more anxious, lack sleep, and show lower energy levels.

These could lead to something called seasonal depression. Look at what this is all about, and then find out about 12 mood-boosting foods to fight seasonal depression.

What is seasonal depression?

Psychologists call seasonal depression the term seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. It can happen anytime, but it most commonly happens during the fall and winter as the seasons change. Around 1.75 percent of the population suffers from seasonal affective disorder every year.

Does a lack of sunlight cause seasonal depression?

Less sunlight during the fall and winter represents one possible cause of seasonal depression, which is why you should consider eating foods that help with depression.

Is seasonal depression caused by a lack of vitamin D?

It is one of the possible causes, yes.

Sunlight helps your body produce vitamin D; when you get less sunlight, your body produces less of this critical vitamin. Vitamin D helps your body regulate several hormones affecting your normal day-to-day functioning. Eating foods rich in vitamin D can help with depression.

What causes seasonal depression?

Other causes of seasonal depression include imbalances of mood-boosting hormones and too much melatonin produced by your brain. Melatonin helps you regulate your sleep.

What foods help with stress and depression?

Mayo Clinic states you should balance carbs and protein to go along with healthy fruits and vegetables for a well-balanced meal to get more mood-boosting foods for depression.

When choosing carbs, look for ones high in fiber. Fiber helps you feel fuller while also assisting your gut microbiome in helping it stay in balance.

• Whole-grain bread, pasta, and cereal

• Rice, quinoa, and oats

• Fresh fruits

• Fresh vegetables

• Legumes and beans

• Potatoes with the skin

Protein-rich foods help your muscles while also regulating blood sugar levels. You want low-fat varieties for protein.

• Lean cuts of beef or pork

• Skinless chicken and turkey

• Low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese

• Fatty fish like salmon or tuna (in moderation due to mercury levels)

• Tofu or textured vegetable protein

• Eggs

• Nuts like walnuts, pecans, and almonds

For example, a good pairing for a well-balanced meal would be a grilled chicken salad with green leafy lettuce, blueberries, and walnuts, as well as a side of whole-grain bread for foods that help with depression.

When choosing how to balance your meal, vary the colors for foods that help with depression. The lettuce is green, chicken is white, nuts are brown, berries are blue, and whole-grain bread is tan.

What foods are good for seasonal depression?

It's important to get more fruits and vegetables at this time of year because they need sunlight to grow, and your body needs things closer to the sun as a source even more in winter. Take in some seasonal fruits and vegetables in the fall, like apples, cherries, squash, and pumpkin, when choosing mood-boosting foods that help with depression.

1. Green leafy vegetables

Look for kale, spinach, bok choy, collards, and other dark-green vegetables. These vegetables are packed with B vitamins essential for energy production. Recent research in 2019 points to a deficiency in these vitamins that can lead to a mood disorder, like depression, in some people.

2. Almonds

Almonds contain copious amounts of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, as well as lots of protein. Nuts, in general, are great for a cold-weather diet because they offer a great addition to salads, cereal, and yogurt. Don't like eating nuts themselves? Look for nut butter as a mood-boosting food that helps with depression.

3. Salmon

Shop around for wild-caught sockeye salmon because it has a better nutrient profile than farm-raised. Sockeye also has the lowest amount of mercury in fatty fish. Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, both of which boost your brain.

4. Berries

The beauty of berries is that they are sweet without added sugar. Adding sugar to your diet can cause sudden crashes from a sugar high, which might lead to a worse mood. Consider blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries as winter treats.

5. Low-fat yogurt

Yogurt often has live, active cultures of beneficial bacteria that can help your gut microbiome stay healthier in the winter. A good gut biome enhances nutrient absorption and reduces inflammation. Buy plain yogurt and then add berries and oats or quinoa for a well-round treat for a food that helps with depression.

6. Kiwis and oranges

In addition to the colorful berries, maintain your vitamin C with kiwi and oranges. One small kiwi at 2 inches in diameter contains 64 mg of vitamin C compared to 50 mg for a similarly sized orange. Just like vegetables, it's important to pick different colors of fruits to get a wide range of nutrients, antioxidants, and flavonoids.

7. Beans and legumes

Foods high in fiber are vital to a healthy gut microbiome, which helps control inflammation and fine-tunes your immune system. Chickpeas, black-eyed peas, lima beans, kidney beans (as part of yummy chili), and black beans are all great sources of fiber. One study from 2020 suggests that a healthy guy biome can improve your mood.

8. Dark chocolate

Yes, it's okay to have occasional sweets. You just have to pick the right ones. Dark chocolate still gives you the taste you crave with less sugar. Seventy percent cacao contains just 7 g of added sugar per serving, while 90 percent cacao has just 3 g of the maximum 50 g per day.

9. Whole-grain pasta

You want whole grains because they don't cause as steep of a carb crash as refined carbs. Consider having pasta with pesto or a side salad made of dark greens for a complete meal.

10. Oysters

Zinc is an immune-boosting nutrient; you need more zinc in the winter to help your body naturally fight off cold and flu infections. A single serving (1 cup) of oysters has 650 percent of your daily supply of zinc. Of course, you should eat seafood in moderation because of mercury levels. Don't like oysters? Three ounces of crab gives you 59 percent of your daily zinc, while a serving of beef roast contains 64 percent.

11. Green tea

Caffeine helps make you feel more awake and alert. Green tea gives you a little kick of caffeine without higher amounts found in coffee or soda. Flavonoids and antioxidants in green tea help maintain your body's health.

12. Water

Cold air is dryer, meaning it can dry out your skin, nasal passages, and mouth much faster than humid air. Drink plenty of water to help maintain your body's hydration and nutrition in the fall and winter. Fresh produce can help with water retention, too. Mayo Clinic recommends 16 cups of water daily for men and 12 cups daily for women.

Ready to beat the cold-weather blues and fight off seasonal depression? Have a happy and healthy fall and winter with these food tips that help with depression.


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