It’s cold, it’s dark and the weather is pretty bleak too! From the September to April, there are estimated to be 1 in 15 people suffering in the UK from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)[1]. Symptoms worsen when winter is in full swing between December and February.

For some people a mild dose of the winter blues follows them through the dark, cold part of the year, for others, it can be so debilitating that simple tasks are difficult to complete. SAD is a type of depression which mostly affects adults, with women being more likely to be affected.

SAD can be tricky to diagnose, you will need to be suffering from this condition for more than 2 years in order to get answers. Symptoms include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Lethargy
  • Weakened immune system
  • Mood changes between seasons
  • Loss of interest
  • Overeating
  • Irritability

Eat Yourself Happy

One of the easiest ways to try to manage your symptoms is to change your diet. Luckily, many of the top food sources to fight mood disorders can be found locally, making them cleaner, fresher and better for you. Having a diet rich in proteins, complex carbohydrates and foods containing high levels of in omega-3s have been scientifically proven to have positive effects on our mental and physical well-being. Finding time to eat and enjoy your meals is also important. Consistency is key.

Add these foods to your anti-SAD shopping basket and see if you can feel the benefits.

Fish

Fish is an excellent source of minerals and is a lean protein, which means its great for an energy boost. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as salmon could potentially affect your mood. Studies have shown that people who consume omega-3 fatty acids regularly were less likely to suffer from mild and moderate depression[2]. Lean proteins, too, contain an abundance of amino acids which can affect your mood positively.

Fresh local fish can be bought from your local fishmonger. Try fish from D.R. Collin in Eyemouth or Swallowfish Ltd in Seahouses.

A fillet of salmon
Increase your omega-3 intake by consuming a canny fillet of fresh salmon from your local fishmonger.

If you’re not keen on fish, poultry is a good alternative.

Milk & Yoghurt

Low levels of B vitamins can affect the mood. Interestingly, vitamin B-12 deficiency, in particular, has been linked to depressive feelings. Although studies have been inconclusive, it appears than supplements do not affect the risk of depression[3]. The best way to ensure an abundance of B vitamins in the diet is to eat a diet naturally rich in these nutrients. Vitamin B-12 naturally occurs in animal products including milk and yoghurt.

Milk bottles
A refreshing glass of raw milk from Wheelbirks is full of B vitamins essential for mental wellbeing.

Fresh milk is available from Wheelbirks Farm and Morwick Dairy, whether you prefer raw milk or pasteurised. You can also find locally made goats milk yoghurt by Blue House Goats which is available in farm shops around Northumberland.

Blue House Goats yogurt
Low calcium levels have been shown to affect the mood. Top up with Blue House Goats Greek-style yoghurt.

Eggs

Protein-rich foods like eggs are essential for energy as well as a good source of B vitamins, both of which are essential to fight depression.

In the darker months, many people become deficient in vitamin D. Although we get most of our vitamin D from the sun, there are some food sources which contain ample amounts of this vitamin. It is generally believed that the whites are the healthiest part of the egg; the white is mostly protein. But it is the egg yolk that’s full of the good stuff[4]. Egg yolks contain all the fat-soluble vitamins as well the healthy fat and cholesterol which is needed for hormone production[4]. Having stagnant hormone production can lead to mood instability.

Half a dozen egg box
Crack open an egg from Border Eggs.

Try some organic, free-range eggs from Border Eggs and increase the goodness that eggs can offer.

Dark Chocolate

You need a little treat during the winter months, and the cold weather usually sees folks crave chocolate for that feelgood hit. Dark chocolate contains chemicals which are known to alleviate mood symptoms by triggering neurotransmitters in the brain. If you choose 70% cocoa or more, then the sugar content is also significantly less. This means you won’t experience the dreaded sugar crash post-indulgence.

Dark chocolate chunks
Dark chocolate contains polyphenols which stimulate the good feelings in the brain.

Try dark chocolate from Cocoature in Berwick or some Orangettes from Kiki’s Chocolates. The orange peel is coated in Belgian dark chocolate, so not only are you enjoying chocolate, but you also get a slight benefit from the bright citrus fruit beneath. It helps to think that anyway.

Dark Leafy Greens

Dark leafy greens are always top of the best foods to eat lists. From colds to cancer, from exercising to fighting SAD, you want to make sure dark leafy greens feature in your meals every day. Dark leafy greens are one of the most nutrient-dense foods which promote good feelings, an immune-boost and anticancer elements within the body. Symptoms of depression have been linked to inflammation in the brain[5]. They are rich in vitamins A, C, E and K, to name but a few, as well being rich in iron, zinc and other minerals, too.

Savoy cabbage
Cruciferous, green veg such as Savoy cabbage can boost mood-altering chemicals such as dopamine.

There are plenty of farmers and greengrocer shops in many towns in the Scottish Borders and Northumberland. Sign up to an organic veg box scheme by Hexhamshire Organics and request dark leafy greens or visit shops such as Down to Earth in Selkirk to pick up your favourite green veg.

Broccoli, Savoy cabbage, kale and spinach are all fantastic sources of dark leafy greens.

Nuts

As nut trees aren’t so common around these parts, the next best thing is to eat locally-made nut butter without any additives or preservatives. The Nut Roaster supplies 4 types of nut butter including Peanut, Almond, Cashew and Hazelnut.

Although nuts are high in fat, it is a healthy type of fat[6], similar to avocado and olive oil. Still, small amounts are only necessary. A teaspoon of nut butter in your porridge, on your toast or as a dip for fruit and vegetables is an ample amount a few times a week.

A tsp of nut butter
A teaspoon of nut butter added to your morning granola & yoghurt bowl will boost those good feelings

Oats

It is important to eat complex carbohydrates if you are suffering from SAD. Oats release energy slowly and are a great source of fibre. Making sure we eat enough fibre daily can have effects on the body mentally, as well as physically. Fibre can inhibit the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream and increase levels of serotonin, which both decrease mood swings[7].

Porridge for breakfast
Oats for breakfast are the perfect way to avoid a mid-morning sugar crash which can affect the mood.

Get your oat fix from Heatherslaw Mill‘s oat varieties: medium ground oatmeal, pinhead oatmeal and Scottish rolled oat flakes.  The best way to cook your oats, if you’re choosing porridge for your breakfast, is 1 part porridge to 2 parts liquid, we recommend cooking in water as this does not destroy the beta-glucans in the oats.

Goodbye Winter Blues

Feel the benefits of a healthy diet to get you through the winter this year. There are some amazing local producers around you supplying the best quality products which rival the big brands.

If you’re trying mood-boosting foods this winter, it is recommended by health professionals to also try to expose yourself to as much natural light as possible, accompanied by gentle exercise.

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Disclaimer: Always check with your medical professional before adopting dietary changes and exercise plans if you already suffer from medical complications.