A Diet for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

A Diet for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Reduce caffeine, boost healthy proteins, and make healthier carbohydrate choices.

As the days get shorter, some people also transition into Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that may affect as many as seven out of ten Americans. Believed to be caused by the reduced exposure to sunlight and a drop in serotonin levels, SAD may be further fueled by our current love affair with coffee and energy drinks (caffeine also suppresses serotonin).

Many of us do not eat the way we should to maintain good health during the winter—especially given the holidays, with their endless array of carbohydrate-rich foods: pasta dishes, breads, baked goods and sweets. For many people, dietary changes, combined with light therapy and exercise can be just what’s needed to improve their mood. Start by reducing or cutting out the caffeine. This would include caffeine from all sources, coffee, tea, cocoa, and chocolate.

Protein is an important nutritional support; especially high quality EPA/DHA sources. Choose foods that are rich in these, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, egg yolks, and mushrooms. Try to have a small amount of protein at least three times per day.

Making healthier carbohydrate choices is also supportive, especially in the evenings as carbohydrate cravings tend to be higher after sundown. Choose complex carbohydrates such as lentils and other legumes, brown rice, nuts and seeds, and many vegetables. Feeling munchy? Organic hot air popped popcorn with a drizzle of melted coconut oil and a sprinkling of nutritional yeast can be a great snack.

Enjoy this satisfying, delicious dish, which provides great nutrition for SAD support.

Mushrooms, Lentils, and Eggs (Serves 4)

  • 4 large portabella mushroom caps, cleaned, destemmed, and gills removed
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons fresh grated Parmesan
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • ½ cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • ½ yellow onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh basil, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh oregano, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
  • 2 cups tomato sauce

Remove eggs from refrigerator to bring to room temperature. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place lentils and 1 cup of water into a medium pot; bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until lentils are done (approximately 30 minutes). At the same time prep a medium pot of water, set to simmer for poaching eggs at the end.

While lentils are cooking:

Saute onions in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan; when onions start to turn golden and wilt add garlic, saute another minute or two. Add fresh herbs, tomato sauce, salt, and pepper to taste. Bring to just under a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

While lentils and sauce are cooking:

Make four aluminum foil rings and place these on a cookie sheet; lightly brush mushroom caps inside and out with olive oil. Place mushroom caps inside down on rings, sprinkle with sea salt and fresh ground pepper; bake mushroom caps 20-22 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Prep a medium pot with water and vinegar, bring to just under a boil and then reduce to a simmer; combine sauce and lentils when both are done. Poach eggs by sliding gently into water/vinegar mixture with a swirling motion; let cook for 3 minutes or until white appears fully cooked over the yolk; remove with a slotted spoon.

To plate:

Place mushroom caps on plate, upside down (with gill side showing). Spoon approximately ¼ cup of lentil marinara in caps. Top with a poached egg; garnish with fresh ground Parmesan. Add extra sea salt and fresh ground pepper, if desired.

Mira Dessy is a Certified Nutrition Educator, a Real Food Advocate, and the author of The Pantry Principle: How to Read the Label and Understand What's Really in Your Food. She blogs at

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