Feeling blue this winter? Find out how changing your diet could help boost your mood and energy levels...

Nutritionist Resource speaks to one of its members, Nottingham-based nutrition coach Susan Hart who specialises in some common symptoms of SAD, including tiredness and weight gain, to find out how dietary changes could help improve your mood.

What is SAD?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that affects people during the winter months, typically from September through to April. It is thought that the disorder is caused by a biochemical imbalance that happens when there is a lack of natural daylight.

SAD is usually diagnosed if symptoms are experienced for three or more consecutive winters. Symptoms of the disorder include the following:

  • lethargy
  •  depression
  • anxiety
  • sleeping issues
  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • overeating.

(note: If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms we recommend you seek further help from a medical professional)

Treatment options

Depending on the severity of the condition there are a number of treatment options for SAD. In almost all cases light therapy, nutritional therapy and an increase in exercise can be beneficial. For more serious cases counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and even antidepressants may be required.

How can nutrition help?

The link between what we eat and how we feel has been widely documented and by adding the right foods to your diet, you could help reduce the symptoms of SAD. According to nutrition coach Susan Hart, one way of using food to help boost mood and energy is by increasing your serotonin levels (also known as the 'happy hormone'):

"Serotonin is made by a protein amino acid called tryptophan, so eating foods containing this amino acid will help release the feel good hormone. Foods that include this amino acid include eggs, meat, fish, cheese, bananas, nuts and pulses."

Another food-type that contributes to the production of serotonin is carbohydrates, which help to activate the release of serotonin. Susan recommends sticking to slow energy releasing carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread, pasta, fruit and veg rather than quick energy releasing foods such as biscuits, sweets and cakes (as these can do more harm than good).

Vitamin D is a well-known warrior in the battle against SAD. Nicknamed the 'sunshine vitamin', the usual way of getting your body to make sufficient amounts of vitamin D involves exposing yourself to sunlight for 10 minutes a day, but in the winter months this can prove near-on impossible.

Luckily Susan says this is a vitamin we can source from our diets:

"There are some foods that naturally have good levels of this essential vitamin; oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), eggs and meat are great examples. Other foods may also be fortified with vitamin D like margarine, breakfast cereals (please read the labels) dairy and soya products."

Mood-boosting snacks

If you are feeling the effects of SAD, try including the following mood-boosting snacks devised by Susan into your diet:

  • Wholenut peanut butter on rice cakes

  • Hummus on wholemeal pitta bread

  • Banana milkshake with crushed sesame and linseeds

  • A handful of brazil nuts

  • A handful of edamame beans

  • Miso soup with tofu

  • Olives

  • Low-fat yogurt with blueberries

  • Low-salt pretzels

  • Scrambled egg on wholemeal toast

  • Veggie sticks with avocado salsa


[1] Statistic sourced from NHS Choices http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Seasonal-affective-disorder/Pages/Introduction.aspx

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Written by Katherine Nicholls

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