With the days drawing in and the mornings and evenings feeling increasingly dark, for those who suffer, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is starting to bite.
Whether you're an annual sufferer or actually embrace the cosy the winter months bring, we can all relate to the dip in energy and mood the end of the year can bring, particularly as the Christmas festivities start to ramp up.
According to the NHS, SAD, more commonly known as the ‘winter blues’, affects an estimated 2 million people in the UK.
It is a seasonal depression that usually occurs during daylight savings, and whilst the exact cause is not fully known, it has been linked to reduced exposure to sunlight.
SAD has been linked to the following symptoms:
Consistent low mood
Tiredness and fatigue, even with a full nights of rest
Hunger, cravings for ‘comfort’ foods – those high in carbohydrates and sugars
Decreased sex drive
While there are many treatments to combat the condition, looking to the foods we eat and our overall gut health can be one of the most effective ways to manage SAD symptoms this winter.
"The colder months call for more comfort food, as eating what you crave can reduce stress hormones," a spokesperson and wellbeing expert at beauty and wellness marketplace Fresha explains.
"Although this can make you feel good, it can have a negative long-term affect if you are not consuming a healthy, balanced diet."
When experiencing SAD, it can be beneficial to consume foods high in the amino acid Tryptophan.
"Studies have suggested that there is a direct link between this amino acid and the production of serotonin, the hormone related to happiness, memory, sexual desire and sleep," the spokesperson continues.
"Tryptophan-rich foods include salmon, chicken and turkey. Vegetarian and vegan sources include pumpkin seeds, tofu (and other soya-based foods) and spinach."
Your gut biome is also directly linked to the production of serotonin, and poor gut health is linked to depression and hormone imbalances.
"It is important to ensure you include enough water, fruits, vegetables, and fibre in your diet to maintain gut health," the spokesperson continues.
"Challenge yourself to have at least five to seven fruits and vegetables a day."
Foods that combat tiredness and SAD
1. Dark chocolate
This is the one type of chocolate that we can somewhat justify as healthy in very small doses. "Dark chocolate contains high levels of magnesium, which is the mineral that gives us energy and keeps us from feeling tired," explains Mark Gilbert, nutritionist for The 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan.
Also high in magnesium is "the marmite of fruit", bananas. "Love em’ or hate em’, they’re a great snack for when you’re on the go and their naturally high levels of magnesium mean you’ll be getting the right chemicals to offset the negative impact of SAD and will generally feel less tired," Gilbert explains.
3. Red or dark meats
Famously full of iron, eating red and dark meats is a great way to combat tiredness on the day-to-day. Gilbert notes that "in one study vegetarians were three times more likely to suffer from SAD, four more times in another".
If you don’t eat meat, Gilbert recommends ensuring you’re getting a decent iron supplement to avoid SAD this winter.
Watch: What to do if Seasonal Affective Disorder is bringing you down
4. Fatty fish
We all know the theory that eating fish improves brain function, but according to Gilbert this is more than just a theory.
"This is due, in part, to its high levels of a nutrient called creatine which has been proven to improve memory and cognitive function," he explains.
However, it also has benefits for combatting tiredness. "Creatine can literally improve energy production in the brain," Gilbert explains. "When paired with the naturally high magnesium content in fish, these sea creatures are the perfect antidote to the symptoms of SAD."
5. Avocados and nuts
Not only are avocados and nuts both low in sugar and high in fibre, making them filling and nutritious, but they’re also high in magnesium.
"Both nuts and avocados are often considered ‘superfoods’ due to their many benefits, so it’s no surprise they also promote feeling energised and help offset some of the impact of SAD," Gilbert explains.
As well as consuming the above gut-friendly foods, Gilbert also recommends avoiding coffee later in the day and taking Vitamin D supplements to deal with SAD.
"However, if your symptoms go beyond feeling tired or sad, or these feelings are not going away and you’re having serious physical or mental health issues, you should always consult your doctor," he adds.
Gut health read more:
The health benefits a Mediterranean diet can have on your gut (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)
Gut health: Foods to eat and avoid to improve your wellbeing (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)
Do you have ‘winter gut lag’? How the change in weather can negatively impact your gut (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)