The end of winter is here—at least that's what the calendar suggests. As spring promises to warm up our days slowly but surely, will it also thaw out the icy, emotional residue of a vicious winter? If these past cold months have left you with serious mood changes or a cloudy demeanor, you may have experienced Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression tied to the changing of the seasons. Even as the days get longer and snow piles turn into puddles, the effects of SAD can linger. One way to prevent your winter blues from melting into springtime sadness is to stop looking outward to the sky and start turning your attention inward to your stomach.

Vitamins and nutrients present in have serious effects on mood and depression. While changing your diet might not be enough to manage and handle serious clinical depression, changes in eating habits can pave the way for a better mood, better health, and can help you make some serious steps towards recovery. Here's four nutrients that are critical to mental health. Making sure that your diet consists of food that contains these nutrients can help combat depression and help evaporate the effects of SAD.

1. Iron

Iron deficiency in the body, otherwise known as anemia, is a widely distributed nutritional deficiency. Low iron levels are especially common among women, which may be linked to the overall higher incidences of clinical depression in women. Iron anemia can lead to constant feelings of fatigue, mood changes, feelings of apathy, and feelings of listlessness or depression.1 Serious anemia is often mistaken for, or overlaps with, depression and can be diagnosed through a blood test and treated with nutritional supplement pills. However, there's a wide array of iron-filled foods to help steer away low mood and fatigue that accompanies low iron levels.

Foods with the highest levels of iron include:2

  • Seafood, especially oysters
  • White beans, lentils, spinach, and tofu
  • Dark chocolate
  • Beef liver

2. B-Complex Vitamins

Vitamin B is critical for healthy and regular brain function.3 Vitamin B-6 facilitates the production of neurotransmitters in the brain, including the transmitter serotonin, one of the most important factors considered in treating depression. Vitamins B-12 and B-9 (also known as folate or folic acid) have similarly important functions; supplements of folate boost the effectiveness of antidepressants, and vitamin B-9 levels are strongly linked with normal cognitive functioning.4

Foods with high levels of B-Complex vitamins include:5

  • Chickpeas
  • Beef liver
  • Tuna and salmon
  • Chicken breast

3. Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is often an issue for those living in colder climates with shorter exposure to sunlight during the winter. Consequently, vitamin D deficiency is strongly correlated with SAD.5 However, vitamin D deficiency isn't only for those who have to deal with freezing temperatures—it can be a problem regardless of location or season. Vitamin D supports bone growth, immunity, and stronger muscles, but it also is strongly linked to improving mood.

The foods with the highest levels of vitamin D are:6

  • Cod liver oil (One tablespoon contains 340% of required daily intake)
  • Swordfish, sockeye salmon, and tuna fish
  • Orange juice, especially when fortified with vitamin D
  • Milk and yogurt

4. Zinc

Not everyone responds to antidepressants in an ideal way. What plays a role in whether or not someone can be treated via antidepressants is an active field of study. In fact, some studies are looking into diets as a possible influential factor on the effectiveness of antidepressants for an individual.7 Several of these studies focus on zinc, with results suggesting that zinc levels are not only markedly lower in those with clinical depression, but also that zinc interacts with antidepressants to increase their effectiveness.8

Foods rich in zinc include:

  • Oysters (3 oz contain 493% of required daily intake)
  • Beef
  • Crab and lobster

New Season, New You

What's great about the foods listed above is that many of them are probably already part of your regular diet. However, being intentional about what you eat and understanding how food affects your physical and mental health can empower you to gain a better sense of control over your feelings and emotions. Of course, it's important to talk to your doctor about how your diet could be affecting your mood and ask about tests that can help determine exactly which vitamins and minerals could be the most beneficial to your health. Additionally, if you discover that you are significantly deficient in any of the above nutrients, ask about supplements you can take that may be more effective than simply eating more of a certain food.

The thing about seasons is that they change. Spring is symbolic of renewal, rebirth, and most of all, a new season in your life. You can begin again in spring, starting with a diet that encourages an active brain, a positive attitude, and a body filled with energy. Don't let the emotional frostbites of winter freeze over your chance of a fresh beginning.

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1Sathyanarayana Rao, T., Asha, M., Ramesh, B., & Jagannatha Rao, K. (2008). Understanding Nutrition, Depression And Mental Illnesses. Indian Journal Of Psychiatry, 77-77.

2Iron. (2015, February 19). Retrieved March 18, 2015, from

3Vitamin B6 level is associated with symptoms of depression. (2004). Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 73(6), 340-3.


5Vitamin B6. (2011, September 15).

6Diet for Depression | Foods that Help Depression. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2015, from

7Vitamin D. (2014, November 10).

8Swardfager W, Herrmann N, McIntyre RS, Mazereeuw G, Goldberger K, Cha DS, Schwartz Y, Lanctôt KL. (2013, June). Potential roles of zinc in the pathophysiology and treatment of major depressive disorder. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 37(5):911-29. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.03.018. Epub 2013 Apr 6.

9Nowak G, Szewczyk B, Pilc A. (2005). Zinc and depression. Pharmacol Rep, 57(6):713-8.

Date of original publication:

Updated: March 08, 2017