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Hello Idaho: A healthy diet can help fight seasonal affective disorder

You are what you eat. Eating healthy food can lead to a healthier mind as well as a healthier body.

BOISE, Idaho — Do you feel like you're in a funk? Are you having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much? Are you craving sweet and starchy foods and therefore putting on some weight? Do you sometimes feel unmotivated or even hopeless?

You may have seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. The American Psychological Association describes it as a type of depression that lasts for a season, typically the winter months, and goes away during the rest of the year.

To overcome it, they suggest getting outside in the daylight as much as possible, staying active, staying connected to family and friends and, if you continue to struggle, seeking professional help.

They also recommend eating a healthy diet. That's because what you put in your stomach can really affect what's going on in your head.

"With seasonal affective disorder and that increased appetite, increased cravings a lot of times we jump to carbohydrates, sugary foods, fatty foods," said Dr. Julie Wood, a psychiatrist with Optum Idaho. "We might get a quick transient boost in our mood, but ultimately they're going to make us feel sluggish, decrease our ability to concentrate, focus, decrease our energy and those types of things, maybe even make us more depressed."

RELATED: 'It's a compounding effect': Pandemic is worsening seasonal affective disorder

According to Wood, food can really affect our mood. Certain foods can increase our neurotransmitters, our brain chemicals. For example, serotonin is our natural mood stabilizer.

"It's known to calm us and decrease depression, increase positive mood symptoms," she said.

It's worth noting, there are such things as healthy comfort foods.

"More complex carbohydrates that are higher in fiber take longer to digest and are better choices than simple carbohydrates or the high sugar, high starchy type foods," Wood said.

She recommends whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and lentils, as well as lean meats, low fat dairy products, eggs and tofu.

"Increases in dopamine after high-protein meals can alter our alertness in a good way, our motivation, our ability to concentrate," Wood said.

And to wash it all down, she suggests caffeine-free drinks, herbal teas, 100% fruit juice - but be careful of the sugar content - and good, old-fashioned water.

"Staying well-hydrated is important because it can improve our mood, our concentration our energy levels and even affect our appetite," Wood said.

Some good information to digest before the next time you actually have to digest.

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