How To Fight Seasonal Affective Disorder With Food

Feeling the impact of SAD? Here’s a couple of ways you can help beat off the blues with some delicious food.

Following a barely perceptible improvement in the weather, Summer 2021 came and went. A handful of well-deserved festivals, a park run, and an al fresco dinner or (if you were lucky) two. Not much – but certainly an upgrade from the frost of late 2020 – a year which took the record for hosting the bleakest British winter of the last half-century.

Despite our brief respite, summer has now ritualistically packed up its things and left. The air has assumed a chilly sharpness, the leaves are browning, and the sky has turned to a familiar shade of icy blue. Scarves are unearthed, parkas purchased, and we prepare ourselves for cosy, fire-lit pub trips, mulled-wine, and sub-zero office commutes.

More than any other season, winter has the most beautiful and miserable connotations. One of the less positive of these is the "winter blues." Every year thousands of Brits find themselves acquainted with the dark fog of seasonal affective disorder ('SAD') – an affliction that usually begins to affect us in our 20s and 30s.

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder, And Why Do We Get It?

Sunlight is crucial to our well-being and happiness. When it's bitterly cold and wet, socialising loses appeal. The prospect of walks and exercise also become less enticing. So we stay in, our brains produce fewer endorphins, and we have limited human contact. Our worlds become increasingly smaller.

By Winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the sun rises after 8:00 and sets before 16:00. In the UK, with our beloved 9-5 working week pattern, many of us are forced to commute to the office in pitch-black, stay inside all day, and leave in the same oppressive darkness.

A lack of sunlight obscures our bodily functions and eventually results in underproduction of the "happy hormone" – serotonin. Simultaneously, our bodies begin overproducing melatonin – a sleep hormone. Consequently, our body clocks fall off-kilter, the fine balance of our health is challenged, and we can feel tired, unmotivated, unproductive, and hopeless as winter sets in.

Sounds Great – Is There Anything I Can Do?

Fortunately, as a group of food lovers and recipe-worshippers, we are well placed to take this 'SAD' matter into our hands and combat the gloom.

How? By doing what we do best: making and eating delicious recipes.

We all know that food has a huge impact on our physical health, but research is also uncovering that diet and nutrition have a remarkable capacity to shape our mental health and our ability to stave off SAD.

Science still has a long way to go in this field - and the causation between diet and mental health is far from explained. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that certain foods and dietary routines impact immune activation, your gut microbiome and glycaemia, which have all been proven to have links to your psychological wellbeing. Put simply: food changes mood.

At Mob, this means one thing: rolling back our sleeves and figuring out which recipes are best for improving seasonal sadness.

Fed By The Med

We all love a good, carb-heavy, stodge-resplendent diet, don’t we? During the winter, it’s especially tempting to comfort eat on a warming mac 'n' cheese or rare steak. Studies, however, show that a Western diet with a high intake of red meat, high-fat dairy products and refined grains is associated with an increased risk of depression.

A Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, abundant in vitamin B12, folate, high intakes of fish, fruit, vegetables, olive oil, low-fat dairy products, and whole grain, is now widely associated with a decreased risk of SAD.

Here are a few med-inspired Mob recipes to help combat your SAD:

Mob’s Buddha Bowl

Tikka Salmon and Broccoli Traybake

The "Sunshine" Vitamin

Vitamin D is often referred to as the "sunshine vitamin" because when our bodies are exposed to ultraviolet, receptor cells in our skin convert cholesterol to vitamin D, which is essential for its mood-boosting properties.

When exposure to sunlight is limited, it is essential that we still intake vitamin D. Fortunately for us, it can be absorbed from certain foods. These include specific types of fatty fish (think salmon, rainbow trout, tuna and sardines) fish oils (like cod liver oil), egg yolks and fortified milk.

These recipes for Citrus Miso Salmon and Crispy Salmon Parcels are especially delicious hits of vitamin D.

Probiotics And Chocoholics

By including foods in our diets that encourage a healthy gut and diverse microbiome, we can improve our winter moods.

These foods include kefir, kimchi, miso, unsweetened yoghurts, fibre-rich plants like garlic and berries, and sauerkraut. Before you ask: yes, this Miso Caramel Chocolate Mousse counts.

You might be wondering why that last recipe is capable of keeping the blues at bay. Well, it turns out that dark chocolate (with 80% cocoa or higher) is linked to a high polyphenol content, and that these micronutrients have been shown to reduce anxiety, improve calmness and generally boost mental well-being. Zero complaints about that one from the Mob!

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