Food for the winter blues
With the cold weather and the short days upon us, many people in the UK struggle with the winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) at this time of year. But food plays a vital role in warding off the symptoms, and knowing what to eat and why will help to avoid winter deficiencies.
Vitamin D supports mental health and is thought to have a role in serotonin production, with supplements being used to successfully treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is also important to support the immune system against viral infections that are common at this time of year, including flu and upper respiratory tract conditions. Good food sources of vitamin D include oily fish (e.g. salmon and mackerel) eggs and raw milk, although when daylight is in short supply a supplement may be the best way to protect against deficiency.
Mood-boosting omega 3 fats are also especially important at this time of year, so be sure to include nuts, seeds and oily fish like salmon. As well as supporting the nervous system, fat in the diet has the added benefit of aiding absorption of vitamin D.
Much has been written about foods which contain serotonin (or its precursor, tryptophan) to help reduce seasonal depression; however, many high-tryptophan foods are animal based and contain high levels of protein which can inhibit the absorption of tryptophan into the brain. Choose instead vegetarian sources of tryptophan such as pumpkin seeds, nuts, avocados and spinach, or make soups and hearty stews with sweet potatoes and winter squashes.
If you are interested in knowing more about how food affects brain function, the New Year is a great time to enrol on a course in Nutrition.