Bypass SAD by eating a sun-bathed lunch

/ Categories Tricks of the trade, Nutrition and Healthy Eating / Author:

Bypass SAD by eating a sun-bathed lunch

Photo by Charlie Richards

It’s that time of year again. Many of us are striving to better our health and wellbeing in the early months of a new year. We’re over the hump but there are still days of early darkness ahead before spring finally bursts into blossom and the sun comes out to play, so it’s essential to find ways to feel nourished and cared for.

To gather some tips, Leiths chatted with Jennifer Irvine, founder of The Pure Package food delivery service, which helps those with busy lifestyles to eat a nutritious diet.

Leiths joined forces with The Pure Package in 2014 to develop our highly regarded part-time course, Nutrition in Culinary Practice: The Accreditation. This unique course combines lessons on the nutritional make-up of food with practical, hands-on cookery training. Students discover how to cater for allergies and intolerances, understand portion control, and learn to tell fact from fiction when it comes to the diet industry.

Jennifer explained that Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is sometimes called ‘winter depression’. As well as feeling low in mood, some people feel irritable and have an urge to sleep for longer hours due to lack of energy. Sometimes SAD can even lead to cravings for carbohydrates and comfort foods. Whether or not we have a case of SAD, we’ve all had that moment when you realise yikes, did I actually just eat that big bag of crisps to myself... again?

So how do we combat this dark dilemma? Jennifer explained to us that while the exact cause of SAD is unclear, it is likely that when there is a lack of sunlight in the darker winter months, our brains stop producing attributes like serotonin (which can link to feelings of depression) and melatonin (which can make you feel sleepy). This confuses the internal body clock.

When natural sunlight hits the skin, it triggers the body's vitamin D production. Some nutritionists actually refer to it as ‘the sunshine vitamin’. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain's release of serotonin. At night, darker lighting triggers the brain to make melatonin. So a balance of these two factors is key to feeling energised and awake in the day, and having the ability to calm our bodies and feel restful in the at night.

Luckily, Jennifer has shared a simple and tasty way to get extra vitamin D back into the body. It’s easier than you might think and a delicious alternative to taking supplements, which at times your system can struggle to absorb. The secret is none other than the humble mushroom. That’s right - and any mushroom will do! From shiitake, to morels, from the simplest white button to the exotic maitake; the choices are endless.

Before cooking a dish featuring your chosen funghi, lay them on a sunlit windowsill for a couple of hours, ensuring that the sun’s rays are shining upon them for most of this time. This bathing of light will actually increase the mushrooms’ levels of vitamin D, which will nourish your body once you eat them. They can simply be enjoyed raw in a salad or cooked into something like a risotto or a stir-fry, and the benefits will remain.

So get those mushroom recipes out, put your favorite funghi on a sunlit window ledge and combat SAD with delicious!

Click through to learn more about Nutrition in Culinary Practice: The Accreditation or search ‘Healthy Eating’ on to explore our range of classes to suit a variety of dietary needs.

Why not try Leiths’ warming Beet Bourguignon with mushrooms recipe?

Beet Bourguignon with mushrooms

Serves 4

20g dried wild mushrooms

3 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion

3 cloves garlic

2 medium sized carrots

5 small beetroots

6 sprigs thyme

3 bay leaves

sea salt and pepper to taste

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp smoked paprika

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

300ml chopped tomatoes

500ml red wine

2 tbsp olive oil

60g or 12 small pearl onions

6 portobello mushrooms


  • Soak 20g dried wild mushrooms in 750ml boiling water and leave aside for 15minutes.
  • Finely dice the red onion and crush the garlic. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat, stir the onion and cook until they are slightly softened and beginning to brown stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  • Strain the wild mushrooms from the soaking liquid, reserving the liquor and chop the mushrooms finely.
  • Peel the carrots and cut into quarters down the length and then into 2cm pieces. Peel the beetroots and cut to a similar size to the carrots. Stir the beetroots, carrots, thyme and bay leaf into the onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Add the tomato paste, smoked paprika, red wine, chopped tomatoes, mushroom liquid, chopped rehydrated wild mushrooms, cider vinegar and bring to the boil. Turn down to a medium simmer for about 40 minutes and skim if necessary, stirring occasionally.
  • Immerse the onions in boiling water for 20 seconds, then refresh in cold water. Once cool, remove the outer layer of skin, keeping the onion whole. Cut the mushrooms by into 12 pieces.


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