Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is real, and per the American Psychiatric Association, it affects roughly 5 percent of Americans every winter. But even if you’re not officially diagnosed, shorter, colder days can have a very real impact on your mood. Luckily, there are natural ways to feel a little bit better, namely, with food. According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, eating certain fruits and vegetables can improve your mental health. Here, six foods to load up on to beat the winter blues.
By now we know that tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, a fat-soluble phytonutrient that’s good for you for a host of reasons. One of which is that lycopene, according to a study in the Journal of Affective Disorders, a tomato-rich diet is independently related to lower prevalence of depressive symptoms. That’s partially because lycopene can actually slow or stop the buildup of pro-inflammatory compounds that are often linked to depression.
What to make: Roasted Tomato Soup
Everyone’s favorite healthy fat isn’t just delicious and ripe for Instagramming. Avos boast a grade-A combo of B vitamins and potassium, which, according to research published in the British Journal of Nutrition, increases serotonin levels and lowers blood pressure. This should help keep you calm and collected, even when it feels like you haven’t seen sunshine in a week. One avocado toast, please.
What to make: Avocado Rice
Leafy greens like spinach, kale and bok choy are nutritional powerhouses. They contain folate, calcium, magnesium and vitamin K. Folate specifically, according to a study at McGill University, has been used as a supplement to improve depression. So make like Popeye and load up on those greens.
What to make: Coconut Creamed Spinach
This one’s a little tricky: Carbs in general increase serotonin levels, which control and regulate your mood. (That’s why when you’re feeling stressed, you might crave potato chips or French fries.) Per research at M.I.T., eating those types of bad carbs, though, could lead to adverse symptoms like weight gain. That, in turn, could negatively impact your mood. So instead, stick to complex carbs like sweet potatoes, whole-wheat bread and butternut squash. They’re way more nutritious but have the same effect on your serotonin levels.
What to make: Cauliflower Sweet Potato Burgers
A lack of sunshine means less opportunity for your body to soak up vitamin D, and research in the journal Medical Hypotheses found a link between a vitamin D deficiency and seasonal affective disorder. You could take vitamin D supplements to up your intake, or you could load up on foods, like wild salmon, that are naturally high in vitamin D3. We’re feeling happier already.
What to make: Baked Sesame-Ginger Salmon in Parchment
As we mentioned above, wild salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids—but what if you’re vegetarian or vegan? Walnuts are one of the richest plant sources, and numerous studies, including this one from the University of New Mexico, have demonstrated how omega-3 fatty acids support brain function and reduce symptoms of depression. Now if you’ll excuse us, it’s time for a snack.
What to make: Roasted Mixed Nuts