Further on Seasonal Affective Disorder: Anti-depressant Foods, Nutrients, and my Happy Stew Recipe

Last week, I posted some thoughts on managing S.A.D., those sticky icky winter blues that descend upon us like so many premature snowflakes. This week I’d like to take a deeper dive into the foods and nutrients that can be helpful in managing S.A.D. and depression in general. And finally, I share my recipe for Happy Stew.


What we eat can have a huge impact on our mood and energy levels. This is not about having the perfect diet but overall choosing foods that make us feel sustained, energetic, and supported.

Take care in the selection and preparation of foods, so that our enjoyment begins before we ever sit down to eat. As much as possible, choose whole foods over processed and packaged. Colorful over beige. Local and organic, whenever possible. The following is a list of foods to support you during the winter doldrums:

  • Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines
  • Other healthy protein sources, including organic eggs and grass-fed beef
  • Raw nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, macadamias, hemp, chia, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and flax
  • Other good brain fats like olive oil and coconut oil
  • Green vegetables such as Swiss chard, kale, broccoli, and spinach
  • Other brightly colored vegetables like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, red cabbage, and red onions
  • Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa
  • Fruits such as berries, grapes, pears, and apples


In his book How Come They’re Happy and I’m Not, my friend and naturopathic doctor, Dr. Peter Bongiorno highlights vitamin D (ie, the happy vitamin) as particularly important in managing depression.

The best way to get adequate vitamin D is through exposure of the skin to sunlight; however we often don’t get this because of heavy sunscreen use (which is generally a good thing!), decreased time outside in colder weather, and several other factors. Vitamin D can also be found in foods such as fortified dairy and non-dairy milks, eggs, and fatty fish like salmon.

Another option is vitamin D3 supplementation. Before taking a supplement, however, it’s important to check the body’s current vitamin D level (normal levels are between 30 and 100). Working with a doctor, naturopath, or dietitian is a wonderful way to determine the best option.


Drinking water is so important in maintaining consistent energy and mood levels. In the winter months, when the temperature drops, it’s easy to forget the importance of water. And drinking coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages for an artificial energy boost can also increase your loss of body water. It’d hard to go wrong with eight 8-ounce glasses per day.


Happy stewRecipe: Happy Stew

Baby spinach, ½-1 pound, rinsed

Extra virgin olive oil

Red onion, 1 medium, diced

Sweet potato, 1 medium, cubed

Butternut squash (1 small or ½ large), peeled, seeded, and cubed

Chickpeas, 1 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed

Cumin, 1 teaspoon

Salt and pepper to taste

Cooked brown rice or quinoa


  1. Place the spinach in a covered pot or pan with 1 cup of water and steam over medium heat until very wilted. Drain and set aside the spinach, reserving the spinach water. Once cooled, the spinach can be chopped or cut with kitchen shears.
  2. In the same pot or pan, sauté the red onion in olive oil over medium-high heat, until softened. Toss in the sweet potato and sauté for 5 minutes. Toss in the butternut squash and sauté for another 5 minutes. Pour in ½-1 cup of the spinach water, cover, and finish cooking until the sweet potato and butternut squash are tender (add additional water, if necessary).
  3. Add the steamed spinach and the chickpeas. Sprinkle with the cumin, salt, and pepper and toss to combine. Serve over brown rice or quinoa with a drizzle of olive oil. Smile and say Mmmmm.