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5 Tweaks You Can Make to Your Diet to Help Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder

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It’s that time of year again. Daylight savings has come to an end and we’re back to limited sunshine, which means that winter blues are slowly creeping up on us. However, if you’re one of the five percent of people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), this change in hours of daylight brings symptoms that are more severe than just the typical feeling of wanting to “hibernate”.

SAD is brought about by a biochemical imbalance in the brain due to the shortened hours of light and the sudden disruption to the circadian rhythm and it shares similar symptoms with major depression. Sufferers may lose interest in activities they enjoy, experience a change in appetite and sleep patterns, have feelings of profound fatigue or restlessness, and may experience thoughts of suicide in extreme cases. While exposure to light, cognitive behavior therapy, and antidepressants are some of the main avenues of treatment in moderate to severe SAD, one’s diet can also help to alleviate symptoms of fatigue and negative moods, especially in people suffering from milder cases.

Many health experts have identified a link between what we eat and the incidence of psychiatric disorders. Certain foods play an important role in the production of neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation. As such, tweaking your diet to incorporate more of the vitamins and minerals essential to brain health can go a long way in warding off your seasonal blues.

Note: If you think you might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, please seek out the advice of your physician or any other medical professional for proper treatment.

Want to lift up your mood as winter approaches? Here are five easy diet changes you can make to help you do it:

1. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

We all know that eating from the rainbow is good for our physical health but it can also be good for our mental health. Fruits and vegetables contain a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which all play a role in maintaining our brain biochemistry at an optimal level. Minerals such as chromium, iodine, iron, selenium, magnesium, and zinc are especially important in the synthesis and production of neurotransmitters that regulate our mood. You can find these minerals in dark leafy greens, spinach, root vegetables, broccoli, sea vegetables, mushrooms, berries, avocados, and most fruit.

Consuming a lot of fruits and vegetables daily also gives you a good source of low glycemic carbohydrates which have a lasting effect on your brain chemistry and mood because it contributes to the production of serotonin, a chemical that promotes the feeling of well-being.

In short, eating eight to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily should be your priority if you want to lift up your mood. Take advantage of the beautiful produce that’s in season right now and make these Root Vegetables Roasted in Coconut Milk With Salted, Toasted Macadamia or this Quinoa Mushroom Stuffed Acorn Squash.

2. Get Your Amino Acids

It turns out that getting enough protein is important for mood regulation. Thankfully, we all know (contrary to some pervasive myths) that we can get all the essential amino acids quite easily on a plant-based diet. Getting enough of tyrosine, tryptophan, phenylalanine, and methionine is especially helpful to regulate our mood as these amino acids are involved directly in the production of dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters whose deficiency has been linked to depression.

If you’re suffering from a low mood, it is paramount to make sure that you’re eating a diet rich in beans, legumes, healthy grains, cereals, nuts, and seeds as these are the best plant sources of amino acids.

Not sure what to make to get all the healthy protein you need? We suggest making these delicious seasonal White Bean and Pumpkin Veggie Burgers and these Red Lentils and Butternut Squash Burgers. You can also check out our ultimate guide on 25 Delicious Vegan Sources of Protein and try these 15 Protein-Packed Vegan Recipes For the Perfect Fall Dinner.

3. Increase Your Intake of Omega-3’sEdamame Seaweed Salad

Including healthy plant-based sources of fatty acids in your diet, such as avocados, hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, cashews, almonds, and algae is a good way to alleviate symptoms of depression. Getting a sufficient amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3’s) every day is especially important as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is derived from omega-3’s, has been shown to play a role in decreasing the symptoms of depression. This effect is theorized to be due to the fact that DHA is converted into prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and other chemicals our brain needs for mood regulation.

If you’re concerned about how to get your omega-3’s on a vegan diet, we suggest taking a look at these 5 Healthy Ways to Get Enough Fats on an Oil-Free Diet and these Plant-Based Foods With the Highest Omega-3 Fatty Acids. You can also make this Edamame Seaweed Salad, these Smoky Black Bean and Hemp Seed Burgers, and this Spicy Bean, Mushroom, and Avocado Quesadilla recipes as they are all rich in healthy fats (and flavor)!

4. Eat More B-Vitamins

If you’re unfamiliar with B-vitamins, chances are you’ve heard of them under other names. Folate, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, pyridoxine, and cyanocobalamin are all examples of B-vitamins. Consuming these vitamins is especially important as they are involved in cell metabolism and play a special role in our brain chemistry.

In fact, deficiency in folate, riboflavin, and pyridoxine has been linked with an increased incidence of depressive symptoms. Moreover, it has been shown that consuming these vitamins above the recommended baseline (that’s more than the RDA) can improve our mood. Good sources of B-vitamins in the plant-based world include beans, lentils, grains, oats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

Get your fill of B-vitamins with these Sweet Potato Boats With Chickpeas and ‘Cheese’ Sauce, these Sloppy Lentils, these Brazilian Style Black Beans, and these Savory Oatmeal Pancakes With Coconut Peanut Chutney. You can also check out these 30 Delicious, Nutritious and Filling Vegan Recipes With Whole Grains.

5. Don’t Forget About Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D

As mentioned earlier, B-vitamins are essential to our health, especially our brain health. That is even more so the case for vitamin B12. Vitamin B12, also called cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin, plays an important role in DNA synthesis and neurological functions. A deficiency in vitamin B12, which is often a raised concern in relation with a plant-based diet, has been linked with depression and other psychiatric disorders. Supplementation of this vitamin is therefore advised.

Another vitamin of special concern when it comes to alleviating symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder is vitamin D. As you probably know, vitamin D is derived from exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) radiation which is evidently an issue during this time of year. Aside from its well-documented role in calcium absorption,  bone mineralization, and bone health, vitamin D is also indirectly involved in our brain’s biochemistry. Vitamin D is instrumental in the regulation of the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters integral to mood regulation. Some evidence also suggests that vitamin D may stimulate genes involved in the production of those neurotransmitters that relieve depressive symptoms.

Although both vitamin B12 and vitamin D aren’t naturally occurring in the plant kingdom (with the exception of mushrooms for vitamin D), some vegan products such as nutritional yeast, plant-based milks, and cereals are typically fortified with both vitamins. If you’re concerned about your intake, most health food shops offer vegan-friendly vitamin B12 and vitamin D supplements.

If you want to get some vitamin B12 through your food, we suggest making these nutritional yeast rich Raw Parmesan Shards, this Smoky Chipotle Mac and Cheese, and this Sunflower “Cheddar” Spread. Want to get some vitamin D as well? Try any of these 30 Cool Vegan Recipes Made with Mushrooms.

Recommended Resources and Recipes to Get You Started

Want to know more tips and tricks to boost your mood and recipes that will help you do it? These articles might interest you:

If you want to find more recipes that will help you fight the seasonal blues, you can also download our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!


Lead image source: 
Stas Ponomarencko / Shutterstock

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