Food Be Thy Medicine: Seasonal Depression Food Remedies

By: Angel Steiner

There is much excitement and anticipation in the months of October, November and December with Halloween and Harvest parties, Thanksgiving celebrations, family coming home or going on a trip, Christmas shopping, and the many dinner plans. The culmination of the festivities end with a New Years hullabaloo… or several. After all this holiday excitement ends, the wrapping paper is collected, the decorations are put away, and the work schedule resumes to the status quo, there tends to be a lull in the moods of some that may be identified as the winter blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD.

SAD usually does not manifest until a person is around 20 years old; although, it may occur in some children and teens. It is more common in women than in men, and it is said that about 4 to 6 percent of people may have winter depression. There are medications for SAD, but talk therapy, exercise and some healthy eating tips also will remedy this deterring malady of the blustery, somewhat dismal season. Some suspected causes of SAD include shortened daylight hours, indoor work spaces without window lighting, less exercise outdoors, and the eating of junk food that is one of the hallmarks of the holiday season.

Hippocrates is credited with saying, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” The foods of the earth were meant for people and animals to eat to heal what ails them. The FDA, USDA, and the NIH as well as a plethora of nutrition and health care experts have all been charged and trained to understand and convey to the general public how to eat to stay health and thrive in this life. The following are some foods and nutrients to help combat the fatigue and blues of SAD and winter depression.

Lean Proteins: Lean proteins such as salmon, turkey, chicken, tofu, beans, legumes and nuts all contain an ability to satiate the appetite and boost the mood. Protein is one of the essential macronutrients the body needs for survival.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are essential part of proteins for proper brain function and are available in animal and plant foods. The animal protein, salmon, for example, provides the body with much needed omega-3 fatty acids. Some plant sources of omega-3s are chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts.


Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released when the body gets bogged down with lack of sleep, too much to do and poor dietary habits. Berries such as blueberries, raspberries and strawberries all contain antioxidants that are a natural combatant of cortisol production.

Limit Sugar Intake:

For many, myself included, this listing can tend to be a deal breaker for making changes to a diet. It is a known fact that too much sugar and too little omega-3s changes brain function increasing a person’s risk for developing SAD or the winter blues. This is why it is so important to remember the old health adage, “all things in balance” – have that piece of chocolate, but only one, and make sure there is a green salad with strawberries to go with it.

Folic Acid:

We all know that a woman who wants to become pregnant or who is pregnant should make sure they take a supplement that has sufficient folic acid, but it is also good for everyone else to support brain function. It is evidenced to be used by the body to make serotonin. Get your folic acid by consuming leafy greens, oatmeal, sunflower seeds, oranges, lentils, black-eyed peas and soybeans.

Vitamin B-12:

For the most part, vitamin B-12 is found in animal products such as meats, fish, cottage cheese, yogurt, milk and fortified cereals. A deficiency in B-12 is one of many causes of depression. B-12 is synthesized by bacteria in the dirt which means a little dirt won’t hurt when you harvest those vegetables from the garden – keep that skin on those root vegetables! There may be trace amounts of precious B-12.

Vitamin D: The sunshine vitamin is a major contributor to a person’s mood, and is thusly named because our body creates it just by soaking up some rays! Now, the rays of the sun are hard to come by sometimes in the winter months in the northern hemisphere which is why SAD manifest at this time. Besides getting up and going outdoors, it is also possible to get vitamin D by consuming milk, egg yolks, mushrooms and bony fish.

Dark Chocolate:

Yes, I said chocolate! The darker the better, but the polyphenols (an antioxidant) found in dark chocolate are the mood booster. This must be why when you pop a piece of the luscious sweet dark goodness, the eyes squeeze shut and that soothing feeling spreads from the throat to the ends of the fingers and toes.


There is a reason why turkey is served at holiday feasts. The tryptophan and melatonin that is in this tasty animals fat layer has a calming and relaxing effect on the brain which lowers those cortisol levels. The phrase ‘turkey coma’ is a legit thing!


Tryptophan is also found in bananas. The natural sugar of bananas will also rev up the energy and pump up the brain, not to mention potassium, and the magnesium in bananas helps with sleep and anxiety.

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