There are certain foods we need which are packed with nutrients to help improve seasonal affective disorder. I call them mood foods as they can impact significantly how we are feeling. You can quickly introduce these foods into your daily diet, and I haven’t included strange berries or expensive supplements; these are all available in your local supermarket.
During the winter months, those of us who suffer from the seasonal affective disorder (SAD) find our mood dropping and turning into a seasonal depression and we may seek out high carb meals to make us feel better. But this is not the best way of doing things, yes we need the carbs to give us energy, but they need to be the right kind that you get from vegetables, not stodgy white bread and pasta.
I am the first to admit that a bowl of spag bol (spaghetti bolognese) is the epitome of a hearty winter meal, but instead of white pasta, we should be choosing wholewheat pasta or my current favourite is lentil pasta. Still, not all supermarkets do this gluten-free version.
What Nutrients Do We Need?
We need vitamin D; I mentioned a few times in articles the importance of this vitamin as if we are low in vitamin D, we can become depressed. I always get my blood checked in the winter months to see my levels; you can visit your doctor or websites such as [AF] Vitl.
If your vitamin D is low, the chances are you might be deficient in iron; this happens to me, so we want foods that are rich in iron as a lack of iron can cause depression too.
We also need foods that help us increase our serotonin levels, and to do this, we need foods with tryptophan in, such as chicken and turkey, roll on roast dinners, the perfect nutrient-dense meal.
We can’t produce tryptophan by ourselves. We need to consume it, and it really helps serotonin production levels. This chemical is necessary for reducing the effects of depression and improving our mood.
The Mood Food List
A staple of many households is milk, and it is full of tryptophan; you can have it on your cereal in the morning or, as I like to have it, like a warm drink before bed. Not only does milk contain tryptophan, but it is full of goodness and packed with nutrients such as calcium and magnesium, which is thought to help with mental health.
It is thought that calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) may be related to mental disorders such as depression;NCBI
During the winter, I make sure I drink at least one mug of milk per day because I know it will make me feel better in the long run. If you are vegan, make sure your nut milk is fortified with calcium and magnesium and get your tryptophan from the tofu below.
Milk also contains vitamin D, and as I’ve already said, this is vital during the winter months when the sun is low in the northern hemisphere. If you can get milk from grass-fed cows, you will benefit even more as it is higher in antioxidants that reduce inflammation in the body, thus helping out the production of serotonin.
2. Chicken, Turkey and Tofu
Once thought to be the highest source of tryptophan, it is actually below milk, but it still packs a wallop when it comes to boosting your mental health and fighting seasonal affective disorder. You can set yourself up for the day with a sandwich containing chicken or turkey, have a cold meat platter with some coleslaw (packed full of vitamins) and a mixed salad, although I’d put that all in a sarnie.
Chicken and turkey contain tryptophan and help our minds out by providing us with energy to boost our systems when fighting lethargy. They also contain essential amino acids perfect for antioxidants which, as already stated, help with us making use of serotonin.
If you are a vegan, you can gain a lot from eating tofu, as this also contains tryptophan, and you can benefit from it as it contains magnesium and calcium, helping boost your mood. A 100g serving will give you 8.1g of protein, and we need 0.75g per kilo of body weight. But a couple of helpings of it per day will help you gain the mental health and physical benefits of eating tofu.
3. Tinned Tuna
Who doesn’t love a tuna and sweetcorn sandwich? As you may have guessed, I enjoy a decent sandwich, and a tuna one will give me the tryptophan I need. Tuna is an excellent source of nutrients, and I try and eat it once or twice per week; I avoid it any more than that because of its levels of mercury. The more expensive the tuna, the potential for more mercury, but that is another story.
Tinned tuna is good value for money and should be a staple in your cupboards; it is rich in Omega-3’s which help reduce depression; in fact, those who eat a diet high in Omega-3 have lower rates of depression.
If you are a vegan, you may be wondering where you can get your hands on Omega-3’s, and you’ll be pleased to know that they are found in flax seeds and chia seeds, so you won’t be missing out and can improve your seasonal affective disorder by adding these seeds to your meals.
We should be eating more oats. Did you know most oats in the world are fed to livestock, yet they are packed with goodness and help us feel better when facing seasonal affective disorder? I love a bowl of porridge, especially with my daily drizzle of Manuka honey, which can also improve your mental health.
Oats contain tryptophan, and they also support healthy gut bacteria, which then goes on to help serotonin levels if your stomach is in good shape. They are high in antioxidants, and they also help fight cholesterol, which means physically, they are great for you.
You can eat as porridge or toast and sprinkle them over your dinner; I like to sprinkle them sometimes over the top of cheese on toast. They may not be glamourous, but this is food every household should have.
As I’ve said, I eat cheese on toast, a hearty winter lunchtime meal and packed full of great nutrients to help beat the seasonal affective disorder. Admittedly it is not as high on the tryptophan scale as those above, but it still contains it and not only that, cheddar cheese contains essential iron, which is vital for fighting depression. Alongside iron, it also has calcium which, as discussed, is suitable for mental health improvement. Plus, it tastes delicious.
You don’t need to eat much cheddar to gain the benefits, and sometimes I eat a few cubes with apple slices; they work brilliantly together. However, as you probably know, it is jam-packed with calories so go for the best cheddar you can afford and smaller portions.
If you are lactose-intolerant, you need to find another source of iron and calcium, you can find these in nut milk, and they make nut cheeses, I am told, and the good news is that nuts also contain tryptophan.
6. Bananas and Apples
Although not in high doses like milk, certain fruits contain tryptophan, they still possess it, which means there is no excuse for not eating more fruit in your day. Bananas and apples have additional benefits to improving your fight against seasonal affective disorder, and that’s they contain high levels of potassium, the banana being the most prominent player. Low potassium levels are thought to contribute to mental fatigue and mood changes.
Bananas go great with oats for breakfast or whipped up into a smoothie, and apples are equally great. You also benefit from their antioxidants, and as we know, they help with serotonin levels.
As the old saying goes, an apple a day keeps the doctor away or is it dentist, but either way, your gut will benefit from the fibre found in apples and bananas, which helps your gut, which helps your brain.
These six food items will go a long way to improving your mental health this winter when dealing with the seasonal affective disorder—all carrying tryptophan and all beneficial in other ways. I know for one that these foods can be seen as comfort food, but that is their beauty. The excellent mood foods will make you feel better because of their great taste, texture, smell, and nutrients.