Winter Depression? Eat These Foods to Help Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Careful Carb Snacking
Part of the reason people with SAD crave carbohydrates may be due to decreased serotonin activity. Carbohydrates promote the production of serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical. (Drugs such as Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft, are often used to treat depression, as well as SAD, because of their ability to increase serotonin.)
Snacking on the right kinds of carbohydrates can relieve some of the symptoms of SAD, according to Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet. (Wurtman has long researched carbohydrates and their link to depression, publishing a landmark article about it in Scientific American in 1989.) A recent study she led looking at the SAD-carb connection indicated that about 30 grams of carbs—or about 120 calories—per day were enough to make the serotonin you need. But not all carbs are created equal. Eating sweets and simple carbohydrates, like doughnuts, white rice and white bread, quickly raise blood sugar levels, triggering a spike in insulin. The flood of insulin in turn causes all that blood sugar to be rapidly metabolized. That sudden drop in blood sugar—aka “sugar crash”—can cause fatigue, headache and irritability—not good when you’re already struggling with the fatigue that comes with SAD! Wurtman recommends eating carbohydrates that have little fat and low protein to ensure serotonin is made (protein can dampen the effects of serotonin production in the body).
Food Sources of SAD-Friendly Carbohydrates: Good snacking choices include popcorn, pretzels, shredded wheat squares or low-fat biscotti. When it comes to meals, Wurtman recommends making dinner your main carbohydrate-containing meal. That’s because evening is usually the time when the symptoms of SAD are at their strongest—and so is the urge gorge on cookies. Eating healthier carbs, like lentils, brown rice and potatoes, may help fight that urge.