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5 foods and recipes to keep your seasonal depression at bay

When it comes to your mental health, what you eat matters.

Foods for Improving Mental Health and Wellness

Winter is meant to be enjoyed just like every other season, yet the short, dark days leave many of us experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is more than the winter blues some feel during the colder months. Symptoms can include irritability, anxiety, fatigue, social withdrawal and loss of interest and pleasure in activities you normally enjoy.

The good news? Nutritious foods may avert this type of depression.

When it comes to your mental health, what you eat matters. Keep your seasonal depression at bay and elevate your mood with these 5 nutrient-dense foods and recipes, created or adapted by Mary-Jo Sawyer, VCU Health registered dietitian.

Fruit and berries

Citrus fruits like oranges can act like your personal 'sun' during the winter season by boosting your vitamin D levels, while strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are filled with essential nutrients and are among the healthiest foods on earth. Blueberries alone have been shown to significantly improve your mood.

Keep your mind fresh and happy with a rainbow of fruits. Enjoy this easy fruit salad recipe year-round with frozen or fresh berries.

Leafy greens

When we think of perfect pairings, spinach and depression may not be the first that come to mind. But research shows that this leafy green is nutrient-rich with vitamins and minerals that support mental health. Magnesium, calcium, and potassium help regulate stress while some evidence suggests that folate, or folic acid, may aid in treating depression.

Add this super food to your grocery list and uplift your mood with the fresh flavors of this peach and spinach salad.

Dark chocolate

Eating dark chocolate makes you feel good and that’s because dark chocolate showers you with a load of feel-good serotonin to boost your mood. People experiencing depression often have low levels of serotonin. Though not a cure-all, chocolate can equal happiness.

Love your heart, and your mind, with a warm batch of fudgy cocoa brownies. But remember — while made with some healthful ingredients and only 100 calories per brownie, portion control is still important.


Fatty fish, like salmon, are packed with omega-3 and vitamin D. Omega-3 fatty acids are responsible for the production of mood-enhancing hormones dopamine and serotonin, while vitamin D comes in handy for people who live in places with low sun exposure, especially during the winter months.

To counter the effects of winter depression, feast your taste buds on a helpful serving of citrus ginger honey glazed salmon, whole grain rice and sugar snap peas.


Much like fatty fish, nuts are bursting with omega-3 and a helpful dose of magnesium. Whether you’re a fan of walnuts, almonds, pecans, or all three, munching on nuts can create a better mood, give you higher levels of energy, and provide other essential nutrients needed for your mental health.

Avert the winter blues with a homemade trail mix featuring your favorite nuts, seeds, whole grain cereal, and dried fruit.