Doctor shares best diet that has ‘protective’ effect to tackle SAD

Dr Philippa discusses symptoms of seasonal affective disorder

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With the clocks going back this weekend we will start to face darker evenings. And for many people that brings with it seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which impacts the mood. However, like many other conditions, you can help lessen the symptoms through diet.

NHS doctor and Green Chef partner, Doctor Rupy Aujla, spoke with about how to tackle SAD.

“Seasonal affective disorder is a type of low mood disorder that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern and is sometimes referred to as ‘winter depression’,” he explained.

“People produce less vitamin D in the winter months because of the lack of exposure to adequate natural light, and this also happens to be when many people suffer with low mood or SAD. There is a correlation.

“Some estimates suggest it can affect anywhere between 0.5 and four percent of the general population and is about three times more common in women than it is in men.”

Common symptoms of SAD include:

  • Low mood
  • Lack of interest in normal everyday activities
  • Despair
  • Guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lethargy.

As a way to help boost your mood over the winter Doctor Aujla recommended a Mediterranean diet.

This involves lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.

It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods, and low amounts of processed foods.

Doctor Aujla said: “There is a bi-directional communication highway between our gut and our brains and what we eat can potentially affect how we feel.

“Studies have demonstrated that a mostly Mediterranean diet could have a protective effect on our mood which is in some way related to our gut-brain connection.”

One such study, published in the Food Science and Nutrition journal this year, looks at the connection between food and Axis I disorders – commonly found mental disorders including anxiety, mood disorders, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

It concludes: “It seems that the Mediterranean diet can be a practical diet in the control of Axis I disorders (especially depression and anxiety) and can have protective effects in this regard.

“Therefore, patients with Axis I disorders, including those who are not suitable for pharmacotherapy or psychotherapy, can utilise this diet as an alternative or complementary treatment.”

Doctor Aujla added: “With this in mind, good quality fats and fermented foods which will help nurture and populate your gut microbes is a good pragmatic decision for mental health and can have a knock-on effect on how we feel as a whole.

“In general opting for a whole, unprocessed diet with a variety of colourful fresh ingredients, rich in fibre and quality fats could provide additional support for seasonal mood disorders.

“As always, it’s important to check in with your general practitioner if you have concerns or worries about your mental health.”

He also recommended a diet high in vitamin D and anti-inflammatories to help tackle SAD.

“Some easily available ingredients that have a naturally high amount of vitamin D include oily fish like salmon or mackerel, egg and mushrooms,” he said.

“Planning a few meals that incorporate some of these ingredients throughout the week can help keep your levels topped up.

“Excess inflammation appears to have a connection with poor mental health, so removing triggers of inflammation in our diet, including refined carbohydrates, excess added sugar and poor quality fats from processed meat, dairy and oils taken to high temperatures (such as in deep fried foods) is advisable.”

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