foods for seasonal affective disorder

With the sun setting before 5 p.m. and stark drop in temperatures, many New Yorker’s begin to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as “Seasonal Depression” or S.A.D. Though heredity plays a significant role in developing depression, the lack of sunlight also causes a sizable decrease in serotonin. In addition, some individuals start to feel down on their luck due to the upcoming holiday season. Social media vacation comparisons combined with a lack of routine and self-care during the holidays can lead to a not-so-happy new year.

The combination of these factors can make it is easy to fall into a rut, but luckily, there are simple, natural nutrition remedies to combat the blues.

Boost our “Happy Hormones” via Diet

Serotonin, our “feel good hormone” is created from the amino acid, Tryptophan.  Tryptophan is an “essential amino acid,” meaning it must be consumed through diet. Tryptophan deficiency can lower levels of serotonin, associated with many mood disorders including depression.  Food sources of tryptophan are almonds, peanuts, turkey and soy. The B vitamins are required for brain and nervous system function and will directly aid in serotonin production. Good sources of B vitamins include brown rice, chicken, corn, eggs, legumes, meat, nuts, peas, sunflower seeds and nutritional yeast.  Vitamin B9 (Folate) also helps with serotonin absorption in our brain. Increase your intake of Folate by eating edamame, spinach, artichokes, broccoli, asparagus, avocado and turnips.

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Another hormone affecting our mood, dopamine is released during pleasurable activities. It is created from the amino acid, tyrosine. Food sources of tyrosine include almonds, avocados, bananas, lima beans, mustard greens, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, spinach and dairy products. Increased intake of these products will promote dopamine production. Fruits and vegetables protect dopamine from free radical damage, thanks to their high antioxidant content. Sugar, saturated fats, cholesterol and refined grains will lower Dopamine levels. It is recommended to decrease intake of all.

Get Essential with Fatty Acids

Research has shown that an increased intake of Omega 3 fatty acids are correlated with a decreased incidence of developing depression. The Omega 3s, also known as “essential fatty acids” are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA.) Our body cannot naturally produce these, therefore we must consume them through our diet. EPA an DHA are found in fatty fish, including mackerel, trout, salmon and sardines. ALA can be found in plant sources including flax seed, oats, walnuts, chia seeds, dried soybeans, seaweed, pecans, pumpkin seeds, almonds and beechnuts.

Create your own sunshine with Vitamin D

During the summer, our Vitamin D levels soar due to more time spent in the sunshine. Alternatively, our levels can drop very low when we are only in the sunlight for the short time.  Vitamin D absorption is increased by intake of calcium. Increase your intake of Calcium-rich foods such as collard greens, kale, spinach, okra, white beans and yogurt.  


In the end, we truly are what we eat. We also feel what we eat, both physically and mentally. It is important to be aware of our nutritional intake and do what is best for our bodies, especially during the long, cold winter.

About the Author: Allison Scheinfeld, MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Dietitian Nutritionist with a Masters of Nutrition Science. Allison works as a Clinical Dietitian at New York Methodist Hospital. She also has a private practice, Allison Scheinfeld Nutrition, which focuses on personalized, one-on-one nutritional counseling. As of December 2014, Allison became a Nutrition Ambassador for Just Salad’s Chelsea location (NYC.) For more information,

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