Foods for the Winter Blues

Last week, we discussed how certain types of exercise can help you control your seasonal depression. But, as with most aspects of health and fitness, exercise is only one part of the equation. Diet, both what you do and do not eat, also plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy mood and energy level.

The Bad

The holidays surround us by sugary, fattening foods. To make it even worse, depression can increase your cravings for these so-called “comfort foods.” That’s because carbohydrates cause an increase in┬áserotonin which, in turn, can improve your mood. The mood spike doesn’t last long, however, since these simple carbs are absorbed quickly and cause a spike in insulin and a resulting blood sugar crash. Since simple carbs can also have a terrible effect on your weight, that can also contribute to your depression.

Alcohol, a depressant, should also be avoided if you’re struggling with depression. While many people attempt to self-medicate this can create a host of complications if you’re already depressed.

The Good

So what can you eat? While the list of bad seems to eliminate many tradition seasonal foods, the good news is that there are plenty of delicious foods that have the potential actually improve your seasonal depression.

First, replace all of the simple carbs with complex ones. These include whole wheat, oats and many vegetables and absorb much more gradually then simple carbohydrates. This slow absorption means that complex carbs don’t cause an insulin spike while still positively influencing your serotonin levels.

Although the exact causes of seasonal depression aren’t totally understood and can vary on a case-by-case basis, it seems that a vitamin D deficiency is generally involved. This may be because very few foods contain a bioavailable form of the vitamin and our bodies create it from sunlight. During the fall and winter, however, we generally do not get enough sun to create enough vitamin D. The research is still inconclusive, though promising, about the impact of vitamin D on seasonal depression.

Even though there aren’t many foods that offer vitamin D naturally, without being “fortified,” the foods that do contain it also contain omega-3 fatty acids which may also help fight seasonal depression. Specifically, we’re talking about fatty fish like salmon and tuna. Again, the research isn’t consistent enough to definitively say that omega-3s will cure your depression but there’s enough evidence to encourage further studies. For example, symptoms of omega-3 deficiencies include poor memory, poor concentration, mood swings, fatigue and depression. Logically, then, researchers see a not-yet-fully-understood connection between omega-3s and depression.

If you don’t like the taste of these fish, you can opt for a fish oil supplements. In that case, choose a high quality supplement that contains higher levels of EPA, a specific type of omega-3, since reviews of the research show that this form is the most effect in treating depression.

Of course, these are only small steps towards treating what is possibly a serious condition and you should consult your doctor before beginning any course of self-treatment or supplementation.

Have good dietary decisions helped you in your battle with seasonal depression? Please share your experience with us in the comments!




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About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.