Making a few small changes to your diet may help reduce Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms. And, helpfully, they’re the same things that keep your body healthy, too.
First, eat regularly. Skipping meals causes low blood sugar levels, which add to feelings of tiredness, irritability, poor concentration and carb cravings. Make sure you drink plenty of fluid, too, as dehydration can make you feel tired and reduce attention span.
Starchy carbs, such as porridge, brown rice, and wholegrain bread and cereals may help boost serotonin. These foods trigger the release of insulin, which in turn helps tryptophan (an amino acid or protein building block) enter the brain, where it’s used to make serotonin.
Many protein-rich foods such as chicken, turkey, beef, fish, eggs, cheese and nuts are also rich in tryptophan, so can help increase brain levels of mood-boosting serotonin.
Eating a diet rich in B vitamins may also help. Vitamin B6 (found in fish, pork, eggs, brown rice, soya, oats, wholegrains, peanuts, walnuts, avocado and bananas) helps turn tryptophan into serotonin. Studies have also linked low levels of several of the B vitamins such as vitamin B12 (found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy) and folate (found in green leafy veg) to a higher risk of depression.
Finally, enjoy oil-rich fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout and fresh tuna at least once a week. While we can’t yet say it directly improves SAD, research reveals low intakes of omega-3 fats are linked with depression.
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Pasta has a low GI so is great for maintaining energy levels. Plus dairy-rich cheese sauce is loaded with trytophan. Cut calories by making it with low-fat spread, semi-skimmed milk and reduced-fat cheese, and add broccoli for a folate hit.
Pilchards on toast
One of the easiest ways to enjoy oil-rich fish, tinned pilchards are packed with omega-3 fats and top the list for their vitamin D content. Wholegrain toast will help boost serotonin and add fibre to fill you up.
Made with low-GI oats, porridge for breakfast will keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the morning, preventing energy slumps. Make it with tryptophan-rich semi-skimmed milk to boost serotonin.
Bananas contain vitamin B6 and small amounts of tryptophan, while milk is rich in protein. Along with the fibre in the fruit, these should help fill you up. Add a handful of blackberries to boost folate.
All fish is rich in serotonin-boosting tryptophan, but adding salmon also tops up mood-enhancing omega-3 fats and vitamin D. Add fibre- and folate-rich peas to the filling, and opt for a potato rather than pastry topping to keep fat intakes down and starchy carbs up.
Handful of nuts
Snacking on unsalted nuts isn’t just good for filling you up thanks to the fibre and protein they contain, but nuts are also rich in many B vitamins, including vitamin B6.
Baked apples, fruit crumbles and stewed fruit all boost your five-a-day – add a handful of walnuts (with omega-3 fats and fibre) and vitamin D-enriched yogurt or custard made with soya milk for a mood-busting combo.
Pork is rich in tryptophan and vitamin B6 and is lower in fat than beef or lamb. Serve it with sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots and butternut squash roasted in a little olive oil, to boost fibre, and greens such as cabbage for folate.
Eggs on toast
The perfect hunger-busting combo of fibre and protein, wholegrain toast is also packed with starchy carbs, while eggs are a good source of mood-lifting vitamins B12 and D.
Soups and stews
Lean meat provides tryptophan, while potatoes, barley, lentils and beans add energy-giving carbs – all great for boosting serotonin. Veg, such as onions, carrots, parsnips and leeks, add filling fibre.