3 Foods To Help You Beat S.A.D. This Winter
It’s that time again. Leaves turned brown and shedding; the air cold and misty; nights that arrive hours too soon. As we navigate the limbo between now and the festive period, one thing is for sure: the season for S.A.D. is well underway.
For many S.A.D. sufferers, this year brings extra challenges. Our much-changed and socially-distanced Covid-19 world — which currently sees the UK, France and Netherlands enter second lockdowns — throws us into unfamiliar territory. Usually, our everyday comforts, contact, and certainties help make the seasons’ shift a little less blue; this year, they are in short supply.
How Does S.A.D. Really Work, Anyway?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD (an abbreviation that’s either apt or slightly cruel, depending on how much you hate November), is caused by a lack of sunlight in winter. As with many mood disorders, the underlying causes are not always clear. But the main upshot with S.A.D. is this: reduced sunlight disrupts our body clock and changes the levels of seratonin and melatonin in the body.
The shifts in season — all-too-sudden in countries that jump to daylight-saving time in late October, like the U.K. — throw off our body’s ‘circadian rhythm’. Normally, this body clock manages our sleep, mood, and waking time behind the scenes. Plunging into winter is like dropping that clock and forgetting to slot the batteries back in properly: it takes a while for us to re-adjust. Even then, we may have to keep fiddling with the batteries for a while before things are ticking along again.
Then there are hormonal changes from the lack of direct sunlight. Seratonin, the Cristiano Ronaldo of the happy hormones, regulates our mood and dips when we aren’t regularly exposed to sunlight.
Melatonin, the sloth of the hormone world, is also thought to change during winter. This explains our desire to just curl up and sleep when those early winter nights set in — or hit the snooze on mornings where our toes and cheeks have freeze-dried overnight. We don’t physically need more sleep, but the ramp up in Melatonin levels makes us think we do.
While S.A.D. is often worse for people with Vitamin-D deficiency or pre-existing hormone imbalances, there’s a strong chance that — for those living close to the Poles — the mild winter blues are a fact of life.
So, whether you feel lethargic and depressed in the winter months or simply a little less motivated than usual, many of us would benefit from a winter booster or two.
How do you counter S.A.D.?
Thankfully, there are several tips and treatments that can help.
The most effective of these is light-therapy, which basically involves beaming a box of bright UV light into your depressed face for forty minutes. It really works. It’s the most proven way of treating S.A.D. and, though it won’t literally brighten the dark days, is the easiest way to compensate for the lack of sunlight. Just stick it on while you’re sat at your desk and work away.
Light-boxes are also fairly cheap, retailing for between $40–80. (Quick note: this isn’t an affiliate sponsorship or promotion — light-therapy simply works best for me. I own a light-box, not a light-box company… unfortunately).
Light-box aside, there’s plenty of other tips for staying on form in the winter months. Exercise that gets your heart-rate up is great. Taking the time for long walks outside, and sitting close to the windows when indoors, are also good.
But for the foodies out there, looking to Eat Yourself — Not Thin, But — Happier, here’s three quick fixes that you can rustle up, with minimal effort and (hopefully — you be the judge) maximum flavour.
Three S.A.D. super-foods, and how to get them in
The food of champions (if your champion is the bulge-armed cartoon Pop-Eye), spinach is full of folic acid — which some studies have linked to a hike in serotonin levels.
The Brunch Fix: whack some mushrooms and sausages in a pan. Season with pepper and oregano. Get two handfuls of this leafy green and add once the rest has almost cooked. Wilt it and serve on toast, with a drizzle of BBQ sauce or Sriracha (if you like it hot). Time: 15 mins.
2. Bananas and yogurt
Bananas are the perfect happy food: quick to consume and packed with mood-boosting nutrients, from prebiotics (a type of plant fibre that feeds the bacteria essential for your gut health and mental health) to magnesium (a vitamin for regulating sleep and reducing anxiety). Yogurts often contain probiotics, the live bacteria which prebiotics feed off. Together, this combo is essential for keeping your gut in good condition — and with it, your immune system and mental health.
The Smoothie Fix: Chop one or two bananas into a blender. Dollop in five spoonfuls of natural yogurt. Fill to brim with milk. Blend it up.
Edit: if you don’t have a blender, maybe refrain from mashing it up with your own hands, forget the milk, and just have the banana and yogurt together.
Yep, that’s right. You heard me. Chocolate. Dark chocolate with high cocoa content, mind; none of that ghostly white stuff, unfortunately. But yes, dark chocolate has been shown to help improve your mood. Participants in one study consumed a chocolate drink rich in polyphenols, an antioxidant found in cocoa, and reported much higher levels of contentedness and calmness.
The Fix: well, I don’t really need to tell you that one now, do I?
Thanks for reading. I hope this has been insightful and encourages you to get a SAD-tackling superfood into your diet this winter. While there’s a whole raft of other foods that boost mood — such as brazil nuts and walnuts, eggs, turkey and salmon — I’ve picked the three that I’ve found easiest to get into my diet this winter.
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