During winter, it’s not uncommon for there to be a string of overcast, gloomy days for weeks in a row. Between gray clouds and shorter days, it can be a challenge to soak up sunlight, an integral part of health that provides nutrients like vitamin D. A sunlight deficiency can lead to a mild case of the winter blues or even full blown seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
“I spent most of my life in Wisconsin and Minnesota, so I’m very aware of how real seasonal affective disorder is,” says nutritionist Emily Dingmann. In the winter, Dingmann says, there are many foods we should eat more of to help emulate the positive effects of sunlight.
“I like to stick to the basics all year long,” she says. “Build your meals around whole grains, proteins, produce, and healthy fats. What does this look like on the plate? A portion of salmon or pasture-raised chicken, sautéed or roasted vegetables, beans and brown rice, and a fruit salad with chopped nuts to finish it off on a sweet and bright note.”
When the dark evenings set in along with cold temperatures, Dingmann stresses the value of vitamin D-rich foods, “which are all really nutritious foods packed with other important nutrients.” She lists wild-caught fatty fish, dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, canned fish, and egg yolks as essential vitamin D-laden foods. (Here are 5 signs you're not getting enough vitamin D in your diet.)
Dingmann asserts that eating a nutritious diet, no matter the season, can help one’s health. “This again gets back to balanced meals and colorful produce so that you get a good range of nutrients and antioxidants,” she says, something that can lift moods all year-round.
Jaclyn Irwin, a holistic nutritionist, agrees with this line of thinking.
“People can integrate these foods on a daily basis by ensuring that they are getting a variety of the foods,” Irwin says. “It should be quite easy to vary the foods on a daily basis to ensure they are getting enough in the winter. For example, having some anchovies in a salad with a poached egg or having some grilled salmon and veggies with brazil nuts or avocado.”
She believes that when it comes to winter nutrition, it’s best to cover your bases.
Irwin says, “Overall, ensuring that you are eating a varied diet of different veggies, fruits, and other foods rich in vitamin D and B vitamins is a great idea. If you find it hard to eat enough foods rich in vitamin D, which can be hard to do, taking a supplement in the winter is a good idea.” She adds that vitamin D is a crucial vitamin that is depleted in winter because we aren’t exposed to as much sunlight.
To create a diet that’s robust with mood-lifting nutrients that are the next best thing to enjoying a sunny day, look no further than these 13 foods.