Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) includes low energy and sadness often a result of a reduction in the hours of daylight. Experts speculate that these changes may impact our circadian rhythm and may also influence hormone levels including serotonin and melatonin. Our ‘happy’ hormone, serotonin, is known to improve sadness and reduce anxiety. The food we eat, with an emphasis on l-tryptophan foods, can help increase serotonin levels.
Some foods containing tryptophan:
Oats – Complex carbohydrates that contain soluble fibre and can slow the absorption of sugar into our bloodstream and increase serotonin
Cacao – Can help stimulate the brain into releasing neurotransmitters, which can in turn release feel-good hormones, including phenylethylamine (PEA), a compound more commonly known as the ‘love drug’ thanks to the feeling of calm it invokes. PEA can also help to enhance mental focus and concentration, counter depression and anxiety and improve our moods in general. On top of its PEA levels, cacao is packed with l-tryptophan. Do not get mixed up with cacao and cocoa! Cocoa is cacao (usually in powder form) that is roasted at high temperature and this reduces the enzyme content which lowers the overall nutritional value
Brazil nuts – Loaded with selenium. Research has shown a connection between low selenium levels and depression, making brazil nuts a perfect snack for SAD sufferers
Banana – The humble fruit has a lot of weapons in its arsenal when it comes to battling SAD as it is loaded with l-tryptophan and B6 (B vitamins support the breakdown of stress hormones and the build-up of serotonin). As stress will deplete the body’s potassium reserves, the potassium found in a banana can provide a boost that can actually lower stress.
Milk and yogurt – Milk is loaded with SAD-busting vitamin D and yogurt is high in protein and calcium, which can also ease anxiety and mood swings
Mood Lift Breakfast
Recipe by: Tiina Lemmik
Prep time: 10 mins
50 g porridge oats
350 ml milk or water (or mixture of the two)
pinch of salt
1 heaped tablespoon Greek yogurt
1 small banana
1 tablespoon raw cacao nibs
2-3 chopped brazil nuts
Put oats in a small saucepan, pour in milk or water and sprinkle in a pinch of salt. Bring to the simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring from time to time so it does not stick to the bottom of the saucepan.
To serve, pour into a bowl, spoon yogurt on top, add sliced banana and sprinkle with cacao nibs and chopped nuts.
Optional: drizzle with honey or maple syrup