Nutrition & SAD: How Diet & Lifestyle Can Help Ease Winter Depression

The winter blues are fairly common when the cold, chilly months roll round. Darkness seems to stick around for a lot longer than what is comfortable, and the drop in temperature can make us feel fairly miserable. However, when these winter blues become a bit more deep rooted, it is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What is SAD & what causes it?

SAD, is a branch of depression that occurs with a changing of the seasons. Most people experience SAD in winter, but there are reports of people having symptoms during summer.

There a few different theories as to what causes SAD. Some scientists believe it to be the lack of serotonin and melanin produced in our bodies due to the lack of sunlight. Other believe it to be related again to the lack of sunlight, but it’s a lack of Vitamin D that may cause SAD.

Symptoms of SAD

Some telling signs to look out for should you suspect you or a family member is suffering with SAD:

  • Depression (mood shifting with seasons)

  • Anxiety

  • Panic Attacks

  • Trouble Sleeping

  • Lack of energy and concentration

  • Lowered immune system

Can Lifestyle & Diet Help SAD?

Some studies suggest that adjusting your diet and lifestyle can help ease the effects of SAD. By consuming certain foods you are boosting your body’s nutrients and vitamins, which it can then use to help counteract SAD.

  1. Boost Your Vitamin D Intake

Lack of sunshine, means a lack of vitamin D. Therefore, it’s important to get an external source of it. A study from the University of Toronto found people who suffered from SAD showed improvement after upping their intake of Vitamin D.

Some foods to add to your diet to increase Vitamin D are:

  • Fortified dairy products - cheeses, yoghurts, eggs, milk.  

  • Orange juice

  • Fortified cereals

  • Mushrooms

  • Fish with Vitamin D - tuna, sardines, cod liver oil

While you can take supplements, it is always best to include natural sources in your diet.

2. Stimulate Your Serotonin

Serotonin isn’t found in foods, but tryptophan is. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is known to boost your immune system.

Foods that contain this amino acid are:

  • Pineapples

  • Turkey

  • Nuts & seeds

  • Dairy - cheese & eggs

In order for your body to absorb this amino acid it’s best to accompany the foods with some form of carbohydrate.


3. Exercise!

During winter it can be hard to find the motivation to put on your running shoes and head to the gym, but it’s a great way to get those endorphins going! Exercise causes a release of dopamine and serotonin, both linked to happiness.

If it’s an option, exercising outside can help with SAD. You are getting an intake of sunshine, as well as reaping the benefits of exercise.

Getting a good night’s sleep is also very important if suffering from SAD. Exercise is a great way to ensure you get said good night’s sleep.


Diet can only help so much, should you be suffering deeply from the effects of SAD, or depression it is best to seek professional medical help.