Written By: Klair Urbin

Spring may be only few months away, but Michigan winters can feel never ending. Reduced daylight, sedentary lifestyle, limited social interaction brought on by inclement weather, and the post-holiday blahs can leave us feeling gloomier than most other times of the year. But the tools for fighting that gloom may be as close as your kitchen or pantry. There are many common foods you may already be eating that contain nutrients to increase brain boosting substances.


Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is produced by the human body in the presence of UV rays. But during the short and chilly days of winter, our exposure to the sun is generally reduced and we need to seek out D from external sources. The recommended amount of dietary vitamin D is 600 IU for people ages 1 to 70 years, and 800 IU for people over 70 years. This can be achieved by increasing vitamin D rich foods in the diet including:  

  • Fresh and frozen seafood: Salmon, shrimp, tuna, trout, swordfish, etc. 
  • Canned fish: Salmon, sardines, tuna. Foods like canned salmon with the bones have the added benefit of being a good source of calcium, which works together in the body with vitamin D.  
  • Egg Yolks 
  • Mushrooms: Placing your mushrooms in a sunny window for 15-120 minutes can greatly increase the amount of vitamin D (but be mindful of time and temperature control for food spoilage, especially in the summer).  
  • Milk and Soy Milk: Vitamin D does not naturally occur in cow’s milk, but it is a requirement that they are fortified with vitamin D. Yet it is not a requirement for non-dairy milks, so make sure when selecting a non-dairy milk, you check for added vitamin D by looking at the nutrition facts panel for around 15% or higher vitamin D. 


It is important to get a balance of essential amino acids at any time of the year. This includes Tryptophan, which is a precursor to the feel-good molecule serotonin. Tryptophan deficiency/depletion has been linked to increased depressive symptoms in people with seasonal effective disorder. Luckily, many foods are excellent sources of tryptophan: 

  • Poultry: Chicken, Turkey, and Duck 
  • Fish  
  • Eggs 
  • Peanuts 
  • Pumpkin and Sesame Seeds 
  • Milk and Dairy Products 
  • Tofu and Soybeans 


Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is important for many cellular functions in the body, giving us many reasons to consume foods that provide this nutrient. Studies have shown that folate deficiency can cause many drastic health problems, including increased symptoms of depression. The good news is there is no shortage of foods that provide a healthy dose of folate including:  

  • Vegetables (especially dark green leafy vegetables) 
  • Fruits  
  • Nuts 
  • Beans and Peas 
  • Seafood 
  • Eggs 
  • Dairy Products 
  • Meat and Poultry 
  • Grains  

Of course, a balanced lifestyle and diet beyond just these foods will help maintain a positive mood as well. Reducing alcohol intake, getting physical activity, bundling up and stepping outside, and regulating our sleep cycles are a great place to start. Eating a diet of a variety of foods in their whole forms will assure that you do not miss out on other nutrients essential to our brain health and over-all physical well-being. If you are considering supplementation of these nutrients, please contact your physician to see what’s right for you. Otherwise, enjoy this recipe containing an abundance of good mood foods! 😊


Serves 2-4 people 


  • 14 ¾ oz can salmon 
  • 1 egg 
  • ¼ cup bread crumbs, whole grain if possible 
  • 1 tsp salt 
  • ½ tsp pepper 
  • 1 tsp onion powder 
  • 1 tsp sweet or smoked paprika, chili powder 
  • 1 tsp lemon zest 
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice 
  • Optional ingredients: ¼ cup chopped onion or bell pepper, ¼ cup chopped fresh herbs or scallions, ¼ tsp cayenne pepper 
  • Canola oil, or other neutral high heat oil, for frying 


  • ½ cup non-fat Greek yogurt 
  • Juice of ½ lemon 
  • 2 tbsp relish or finely chopped pickles 
  • Pinch of salt, to taste 


  1. Mix all croquette ingredients and let rest in the fridge for 10 minutes. In the meantime, mix all ingredients for sauce in a separate bowl.  
  2. Scoop out 1/3 cup of salmon mixture, roll into balls, and flatten in your palms and place on a plate.  
  3. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Cook croquettes 2-4 minutes on each side, or until browned. 


Serve croquettes with tartar sauce. These go great on top of a bed of spinach or on a whole grain pilaf. Serve leftovers in a salad or as a burger.  


Cardwell, Glenn et al. “A Review of Mushrooms as a Potential Source of Dietary Vitamin D.” Nutrients vol. 10,10 1498. 13 Oct. 2018, doi:10.3390/nu10101498 

Neumeister A, Praschak-Rieder N, Hesselmann B, Vitouch O, Rauh M, Barocka A, Kasper S. Effects of tryptophan depletion in fully remitted patients with seasonal affective disorder during summer. Psychol Med. 1998 Mar;28(2):257-64. doi: 10.1017/s0033291797006375. PMID: 9572083. 

Young, Simon N. “Folate and depression–a neglected problem.” Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN vol. 32,2 (2007): 80-2.