To Your Health

Fend Off SAD this Winter

The people of Iceland experience low levels of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). To help ward off the blues, try including some of their favorite foods in your diet.

Fend Off SAD this Winter
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In her book, The Jungle Effect, Daphne Miller, M.D., writes about the people of Iceland who experience much lower levels of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) than those living in other northern countries and even those in southern latitudes.  After much research, Miller discovered that despite the long, dark winters that can last more than 180 days, Icelanders exhibited robust mental health because of their diet, which is high in omega-3 fats which are known to have a beneficial effect on the brain and nervous system. Nutrients from other indigenous foods also contributed.  To help ward off the blues this winter, try including some of these foods in your diet:

FISH Icelanders eat 225 lbs each year compared to our paltry consumption of 48 lbs. Icelanders eat a lot of wild char and salmon. But even if you don’t have access to those, eating fish with low mercury levels at least twice a week is suggested. (Consult the Guide to Buying Safe Fish from the Natural Resources Defense Council for a list of low-mercury fish.)

COD LIVER OIL In addition to consuming boatloads of fish each year, in the winter months mothers give their children a daily teaspoon of this age-old folk remedy. Cod liver oil is exactly what it sounds like: the oil from a cod's liver. The taste is rather strong, so if you can’t stomach the liquid, try the capsules. Claudia Keel, founder of the ArborVitae school of Nutritional Herbalism in New York, recommends taking fermented cod liver fish oil to bump up the benefits. (Before taking any supplements, consult your physician.)

DAIRY from pastured cows. In Iceland, the cows graze on clover and moss which are naturally high in omega-3s.  Their cultured dairy products are called Skyr and can be found in stores around the country. Also, look for cheese from Switzerland which is likely to contain up to 5 times more omega-3s than typical cheese.

TEA In Iceland, people drink a lot of black or green tea each day. According to Miller, studies show that drinking tea is linked to low rates of depression.  She says it’s likely the antioxidants in tea play a role.

POTATOES Icelanders eat a lot of potatoes—the small red or new potatoes with a waxy center. These have a lower glycemic index than Idaho or Russet potatoes. Also, the way you cook a potato makes a difference. Cooking them in their skin can lower the glycemic index by as much as 40%, and eating them whole and adding vinegar can bump up the nutritional benefits.