If you are someone who suffers from depression or depressive symptoms that seem to coincide with the changing seasons, you may have seasonal depression, or what is also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD usually occurs in the winter months, with symptoms often starting around late fall as the days shorten and the weather gets colder, persisting into the following spring or summer. Although less common, the opposite can also happen, with this form of depression appearing in the spring or summer and subsiding in the fall and winter.
Common symptoms of SAD include feelings of sadness, moodiness, low energy or sluggishness, difficulty concentrating on daily tasks, and an overall sense of hopelessness. While SAD is characterized by a tendency for these symptoms to subside with the changing seasons, the cyclical nature of this mental illness on a yearly basis can be difficult to face.
There is no simple, direct cure to treat this condition. (And if you suspect you or someone you know is struggling with a particularly severe case of SAD, it’s imperative that you see a healthcare provider to discuss an effective treatment plan that may include therapy or even medication.) That said , there are healthy ways to help cope with SAD-associated symptoms. According to the Cleveland Clinic, regular exercise, spending time outdoors, getting enough sleep, and following a balanced diet can help you manage SAD symptoms.
“While there is no single diet that will help you avoid seasonal depression, there are some foods and tips you can use to prevent the symptoms,” says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LDthe author of The sports nutrition book and a member of our Expert Medical Board.
Read on to learn some dietitian-recommended eating habits that you can incorporate into your daily routine to help cope with seasonal depression when it strikes.
Eat more vitamin D-rich foods
While it’s a crucial vitamin to have, we’re more likely to lose vitamin D if we spend more time indoors — something that’s becoming especially common as the days get shorter and temperatures drop.
“One of the main reasons we experience seasonal depression is due to a lack of sunlight and vitamin D activation,” says Goodson.
“Research has shown that people who are deficient in vitamin D are more likely to become depressed, and there may be a link between vitamin D deficiency and specific mood disorders such as seasonal affective disorder,” says Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFTand Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFTalso known as The Nutrition Twins.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it is recommended that adults get about 600 micrograms of vitamin D per day.
“Foods like cow’s milk, fatty fish like salmon and trout, and eggs,” Goodson suggests, if you’re looking for easy sources of vitamin D. For plant-based sources of vitamin D, you can also find orange juice fortified with vitamin D at your local grocery store.
However, it is still difficult to get enough vitamin D through food sources alone. So, if possible, try to spend some time in the sunniest part of the day. In addition, you can ensure you get your daily dose of this vitamin by also trying a vitamin D supplement.
Get enough protein at every meal
According to the Nutrition Twins, getting enough protein throughout the day can help you manage the symptoms associated with seasonal depression.
“Protein increases your body’s feel-good chemicals, serotonin and dopamine, so it’s important to get a boost throughout the day,” the Nutrition Twins claim. “Eating protein with meals also helps maintain energy levels, preventing the blood sugar drops that cause mood swings.”
The Twins recommend about 20 grams of protein per meal if possible. However, this can sometimes be a challenge when you’re on the go, especially when you consider the other food groups. If this sounds like you, know that protein doesn’t always have to be the star of your entree, and consider incorporating it into your meals as a side dish or an additional ingredient to top off your main course.
“Some ideas for getting protein into your meals are eggs or greek yogurt with your cereal or toast at breakfast, beans and chicken in your salad at lunch, and chicken or shrimp in your pasta at dinner,” the Nutrition Twins recommend. at.
RELATED: The No. 1 Food to Help Social Anxiety, Science Says
Limit your intake of processed foods and added sugars
“Simple sugars often found in processed foods and snacks can cause an increase in blood sugar, which may make you feel good for a while, but usually leave you feeling down and in an energy slump later,” says Goodson. “Those energy lows can magnify other depression symptoms you may be experiencing.”
Research has shown that consistent consumption of added sugars and processed foods can have negative effects on your mental health as a whole. A study published in Scientific Reports found a link between sugar intake and increased symptoms of depression. Another study of The British Journal of Psychiatry found that participants who regularly consumed higher amounts of sugar and processed foods were more likely to experience depression symptoms. While these studies were not specifically linked to SAD symptoms, these findings do suggest that limiting processed foods and sugar may help you manage common symptoms associated with depression in general.
Drink at least two cups of leafy green vegetables a day
The Nutrition Twins suggest including at least two servings of leafy green vegetables in your diet each day.
“These vegetables are a good source of folate, and research shows that low folate levels are linked to depression,” says the Nutrition Twins. It is speculated that this is because “folate deficiency can impair the metabolism of neurotransmitters very important for mood, including serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine,” they continue.
“Any leafy greens such as spinach, kale, bok choy, turnip greens or romaine lettuce, and other sources of folic acid include beans, oranges, asparagus, avocado and broccoli,” the twins advise, regarding finding high-quality food sources. of folic acid.
RELATED: The #1 Supplement for Depression, New Study Recommends
Eat smaller meals more often
A common symptom of SAD is lethargy and a lack of energy during the day. To combat this, Goodson suggests eating smaller, more fiber-rich and protein-rich meals throughout the day.
“Providing your body with protein and fiber-rich foods often throughout the day can stabilize your blood sugar, and therefore your energy levels,” says Goodson. “When you’re low on fuel or tired from a lack of nutrients, all of life’s other stressors are often magnified, making it harder to cope with day-to-day things.”
While you can’t completely avoid seasonal depression, following these eating habits, getting enough exercise, and spending time with those you love can help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with it.