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Ask the RD: Alison Ozgur

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January 1, 2013

Alison is a Registered Dietitian specializing in health and fitness nutrition. She is the co-author of Go Beyond Good: The Trail to a Lifetime of Health and Vitality! Do you have a question for Alison? Email us at

Q. During the winter months I suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Are there any natural, drug-free approaches to treating this condition?

A. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a kind of depression that occurs during a certain time of the year, usually during the winter months. Your diet should consist of foods that raise serotonin levels. Foods like pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and butternut squash seeds have a high tryptophan to total protein ratio, making them excellent natural sources at increasing serotonin levels. Spices such as saffron have been shown to be more beneficial than Prozac in helping with depression. Some studies also suggest increasing vitamin D intake to combat SAD.

Light therapy is also an option that uses a special lamp with a very bright light (10,000 lux) that mimics light from the sun. Light therapy should begin during the fall or early winter, before SAD begins. Its recommended to sit a couple of feet away from the light box for about 30 minutes every day. Early morning is best, as it mimics sunrise. Symptoms of depression should improve within 3 - 4 weeks if light therapy is going to help.

Exercise would also be extremely beneficial, especially outdoors on days that the sun is shining. Finally, if time and money are not a concern, take an extended vacation to Hawaii!

Q. I recently fell and broke my leg, and had surgery to repair it with a plate and screws. As I heal, I need to get plenty of protein, calcium and vitamin D, yet keep an eye on my calories as I am inactive. (I had been biking at least 10 miles a day.) It's also a bit hard for me to cook while I am on crutches. Could you address the use of nutritional supplement drinks for someone in my situation?

A. The good news is your plant-based diet will provide plenty of the necessary nutrients for healing and will benefit your health tremendously. In terms of your diet, there are some good plant-based protein supplements on the market. Brands like Vega and Plant Fusion use hemp and pea protein rather than soy protein. In addition, they offer an adequate amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E and selenium play a role in strengthening immunity and decreasing chronic inflammation. You can also prepare easy smoothies at home. Simple ingredients like bananas, frozen kale, and plant-based milk take only minutes to blend together.

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