woman blowing snow on her hands
Photo by freestocks

The DAO of Fighting the Winter Blues with Food

It’s not unusual to start feeling a little stressed, sluggish, or just generally down at this time of year. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s believed to be caused by the changing seasons. Typically, symptoms begin to worsen around fall and peak during the winter months. This is a time when people are especially prone to isolating, given that it becomes so cold outside. Besides therapy that can help you work through the feelings, other external factors that you can control can help, like your diet. Talk to your physician as well if you feel that you may experiencing the effects of SAD and see if there is also bloodwork that you may have done; some vitamins, like Vitamin D deficiency exacerbate the feelings of depression and you can talk to your doctor about the necessary supplementation. 

person in black coat walking on snow covered road near building during daytime
Cold weather can be isolating. Photo by Marc Kleen

How the right foods can fight off winter blues 

Remember, food isn’t just food – it’s medicine! Here are some of the top foods that can help you feel more happy and focused.

Top food sources to fight SAD:

  • Salmon – a great source of lean protein and Omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are known to improve mood. Any source of lean protein, whether animal or vegetarian, carries a rich supply of amino acids that keep spirits up and also satiate you throughout the day
  • Lentils and leafy greens are folic acid powerhouses. One cup cooked has 90% of your daily recommended intake. Folic acid enhances serotonin in the body, which elevates mood.  Other foods rich in folic acid include oatmeal, sunflower seeds, oranges, and black-eyed peas.
  • Berries – Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries prevent the release of cortisol, which we talk about can have negative effects in this article
  • Ginger – Ginger is excellent for your immunity and digestion, and a great winter spice for hot foods like soups and stir-fries. I am also a fan of Yogi Ginger Tea.
  • Beets – Now hear me out, not everyone likes them but they are GREAT for your circulation. If you get cold hands and cold feet, you need beets in your life. If you don’t like them raw, consider getting the pickled kind, which can add a nice sour flavor to your salads.
  • Nuts – in my article about fat, I highlighted how good walnuts were for the brain. All nuts are a rich source of vitamins and walnuts in particular are a great source of Omega-3s, which boost brain health. .Brazil nuts are a rich source of selenium, which can reduce anxiety, and is linked to a lower likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Seeds – Seeds, including flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds are high in fiber have similar benefits to nuts. In fact, pumpkin seeds and real pumpkin products have many benefits for the brain due to their high zinc content. Primarily, they boost brain activity and relieve stress. Just remember that Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks don’t have real pumpkin in them. 
  • Dark chocolate– Now you have an excuse for satisfying that chocolate craving! It’s high in Iron, and improves blood flow,Dark chocolate stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that create feelings of pleasure.  Participants in one study were given a dark chocolate mixed drink every day for a month. Results showed significantly improved mood, which researchers linked with a high polyphenol content. Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant. When you’re feeling down, pick up a bar with the highest cocoa content you can find (at least above 70 percent). Also, watch the added sugar content. You can look for labels that say “no added sugar” on them. 
  • Turkey – the melatonin and tryptophan in turkey contributes to why you feel so relaxed and sleepy after Thanksgiving. Sleep health is quite imperative for fighting off depression symptoms, so streamlining your diet to work for you can help on every level! 
  • Bananas– for a vegetarian/vegan alternative to getting many of the same nutrients, try eating bananas
brown bread with blue berries on top
Add some blueberries on top of the banana pancakes for more antioxidant value! Photo by cleo stracuzza

Banana Flaxseed pancakes (Slender Kitchen)

Recipe Courtesy of Slender Kitchen

1 Serving 

  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1/16 tsp cinnamon (or nutmeg)
  • 2 tbsp flaxseed meal


  • 1.Mash the banana in a bowl.
  • 2. Whisk in the eggs, vanilla, and cinnamon/nutmeg.
  • 3. Stir in the flaxseed meal.

4. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Pour in batter and once it begins to bubble and firm up on the edges, flip and cook on the other side for around 1 minute.

Easy Lentil Spinach Soup (Delish)

Recipe Courtesy of Anna Watson Carl at Delish.com

4 Servings



  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, plus more if desired
  • kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes, with juices
  • 10 oz. lentils
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 4 c. vegetable broth
  • 4 c. baby spinach


  • In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat olive oil. Add carrots, celery, and onion and cook until beginning to soften, 5 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, and red pepper flakes, and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly, then season with salt and pepper.
  • Add tomatoes, lentils, thyme, and vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover partially, and simmer until lentils are tender and soup has thickened, 20 minutes. (If most of liquid has been absorbed, add in ½ to 1 cup more water.)
  • Stir in spinach and continue cooking until wilted, 2 minutes, then season with salt and pepper.

Dark Chocolate Blueberry bark (Driscolls)

Recipe Courtesy of Driscolls

Serves 18

INGREDIENTS1 Package (6 ounces or 1 1/4 cup) Driscoll’s Blueberries

  • 16 Ounces dark chocolate, chopped (about 2 cups dark chocolate chips). If you are vegan/non-dairy try one of these brands.
  • 3 Ounces slivered almonds, toasted and cooled to room temperature
  • 1/3 Cup soynuts


  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Draw an 8-inch by 10-inch rectangle on the paper with a pencil. Turn the paper over. You should be able to see the outline of the rectangle.
  • Melt chocolate in a microwave oven or over a double boiler until smooth. Use a rubber spatula to spread chocolate on the parchment paper up to the edges of the rectangle.
  • Sprinkle blueberries, toasted almonds, and soynuts onto chocolate. Use fingertips to press toppings gently down into melted chocolate. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.
  • Use a sharp knife to cut bark into 9 squares. Cut each square in half diagonally and serve immediately.

Crispy Coconut Kale With Roasted Salmon & Coconut Rice (Food 52)

Recipe Courtesy of Ashley Couse of Nourish and Bloom at Food 52

Ingredients send grocery list
  • 1 cup jasmine rice, uncooked
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons coconut aminos (or tamari)
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha
  • 3 sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
  • 1 bunch lacinato kale, ribs removed and sliced into strips
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds salmon, sliced into 4 fillets


  1. Rinse rice in cold water and drain. Place in a saucepan with coconut milk, water, and salt. Bring to a boil and stir. Reduce to the lowest heat, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes, or until ready to serve (it will stay warm for up to an hour).
  2. While the rice is cooking, heat oven to 400° F. In a lidded jar, combine the melted coconut oil, sesame oil, coconut aminos, and Sriracha. Seal the jar and shake vigorously until emulsified.
  3. Place the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet. Drizzle with a tablespoon of melted coconut oil and sprinkle with paprika. Toss to coat. Bake for 30 minutes or until tender.
  4. Place kale and coconut flakes on a baking sheet. Drizzle with about 2/3 of the dressing. Toss until well coated.
  5. Drizzle salmon with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the remaining dressing. Bake the salmon and coconut kale mixture during the last 15 minutes of the sweet potato’s baking time, or until cooked through, being careful not to let the kale burn.
  6. Remove sweet potatoes, salmon, and kale from oven. Serve over fluffed rice with an extra drizzle of dressing. Devour!

Place kale and coconut flakes on a baking sheet. Drizzle with about 2/3 of the dressing. Toss until well coated.

Drizzle salmon with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the remaining dressing. Bake the salmon and coconut kale mixture during the last 15 minutes of the sweet potato’s baking time, or until cooked through, being careful not to let the kale burn.

Remove sweet potatoes, salmon, and kale from oven. Serve over fluffed rice with an extra drizzle of dressing. Devour!

Last tip

Besides food, I like to listen to more musics in the winter. I’ll put it on when I work out but even in the morning as I get ready for work I like to bounce around to my favorite songs to get me in the right mood for the day ahead. Here’s one of my favorites to listen to this time of year:

YouTube player

More resources 

7 Foods that Fight Seasonal Affective Disorder (Kris Carr)

Foods that Help Fight the Winter Blues: Turkey (Healthline)

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