“Ba-humbug!” I find myself saying when confronted with thoughts about Mistletoe and Menorahs. The Holiday season is different for everyone this year. COVID-19 may be affecting your ability to see family and friends as well as partaking in all the holiday traditions you may usually participate in. Many of us are more isolated than this time last year, and feelings of grief, anger, and despair may have increased significantly. This is understandable with all the barriers we face while seeking Joy and Light in this season. 

With all this in mind, we here at Starkel Nutrition, want to offer a little extra support for those experiencing increased depression and/or anxiety this holiday season 2020. We want to propose some ways in which food can affect your mood. This blog explores two ways in which nutrition can directly influence your frame of mind.  

The first is eating to balance blood sugar, which can directly affect our energy, outlook and emotional state.


Eating about every 3 hours (usually three meals and 2-3 snacks per day) will help balance blood sugar.  Also, try to include a balance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) as well as fiber with every meal or snack.  This low glycemic load will help prevent blood sugar spikes and dips which can stimulate depression or anxiety.  

Not convinced?  Here’s an experiment you can try on your own:  Tune in to your mood, energy, and concentration in the following food scenarios:

  1. ½ hour after drinking 8oz apple juice
  2. ½ hour after eating an apple
  3. ½ hour after eating an apple with peanut butter

The first contains only simple carbohydrates (sugar) which may give you an initial boost in energy, yet will quickly result in a crash. The second option provides complex carbohydrates, and may only sustain you for a short period. Most people experience sustained mood, energy and concentration after the 3rd example, as this option contains all three macronutrients, complex carbohydrates (fiber in the apple), protein AND fat (peanut butter). 

The second approach is to examine certain foods that contain nutrients to support brain health and thus lift our spirits.


  1. Try Omega 3 containing food, such as cold-water fish, like salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring, as well as plant-based foods like nuts and seeds. Omega 3 fatty acids support brain cell growth, development, and signally, as well as genetic expression and cell membrane synthesis.  Omega 3 fatty acids are also a part of the process to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that increases our sense of well-being
  2. Fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, and yogurt help support gut health and therefore brain health. The gut flora can produce a range of neuroactive molecules, including neurotransmitters like histamine, melatonin and serotonin all of which can directly affect our brain function and our state of mood.
  3. Seaweeds like dulse, kelp, and nori are loaded with minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iodine. Deficiencies in these nutrients have been shown to lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression. Seaweed also contains tyrosine, an amino acid  used to form the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. Both of these neurotransmitters are fundamental to normal brain function and are associated with modulating mental behavior patterns, motivation, reward-seeking behaviors, learning, and memory processes.
  4. Eat foods high in tryptophan. Have you ever experienced the calming effect of eating turkey?  That’s because tryptophan is used by the body to form serotonin, a key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. This hormone impacts your entire body. It enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other. Other foods high in tryptophan are chicken, beef, lamb, and fish, as well as dark green leafy vegetables, mushrooms, asparagus, and bananas. Tryptophan can be especially helpful in the evenings.
  5. The B-vitamin, niacin has notable therapeutic benefits for those suffering from anxiety. It is thought to act on the central nervous system to protect against psychological stress. Niacin containing foods include tuna, beef, chicken, nuts, and seeds.
  6. A lack of vitamins D and B12 has been implicated in cases of anxiety.  While B12 is widely available in a variety of animal-based foods (meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs), vitamin D is rather difficult to obtain in sufficient amounts from food alone. It is especially challenging to absorb enough via sun exposure this time of year. If you don’t have enough of these nutrients in your diet, a supplement may be needed. Talk with your nutritionist or health care provider to find a dosage option to best meet your needs.


  • Find a way to bring light into the dark.  Can you view holiday lights, or decorate with your own? Lighting candles is a tradition we can continue during this COVID Holiday.
  • Music can also influence moods and mental activities.  Your favorite holiday music can bring comfort and relaxation.  Music can evoke pleasant memories that connect us with others.  In many ways, music can be an affordable kind of therapy for us.
  • You may also wish to try meditation and relaxation exercises, playing outside, making a gratitude list, identifying and expressing your emotions, finding some socially distanced way to volunteer, spending time with animals, and of course, taking breaks often.

This holiday season may be tough for many people. It makes sense. Try to lower the bar of what you expect of yourself this holiday season.  Also, try to have HOPE.  This season will pass, sunnier days (both metaphorically and literally) will come again.  In the meantime, know that how we approach food can be an integral part of the self-care involved in improving your mood. 

For personalized strategies with meal planning and/or further exploration of supporting your mental health with food, call to schedule an appointment with one of our nutritionists today.

Interested in learning more? Schedule an appointment with us to get support on your journey to body and mind health.

Written by our nutritionist and mental health counselor, Anna Cannata, MS, CN, LMHC