Healthy Nutrition for Colder Weather
Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
Summer’s warmth is starting to fade, and there’s a chill in the air. As the seasons change, our bodies are adapting to changes in the environment, too. The cold air outside and the heated air indoors can dry out skin and nasal passages. We spend more time indoors in close quarters with friends and family, so we’re exposed to more bacteria and viruses that can make us sick. And, when the weather turns colder, many people notice that their appetites seem to perk up, too.
A little extra attention to diet is a good idea, not only to keep you healthy during the winter months, but also to help you avoid winter weight gain.
Our biology drives us to store up extra calories in the wintertime. It’s nature’s way of helping us to put on a little extra padding in order to stay warm in the winter. But since we can layer on the clothing or turn up the thermostat, this extra layer of fat isn’t something we need, or want.
Even so, the cold, dark days of winter often bring on cravings for hearty comfort foods and warm beverages. But many of these dishes have more calories than the lighter foods of summer so you’ll want to watch your portions and be sure to keep up with your exercise routine to avoid piling on the pounds. If it’s too cold to exercise outside, maybe an exercise class or DVD you can do at home will do the trick.
We tend to eat fewer vegetables and fruits in the winter, but we need them just as much now as we do at any other time of the year. For one thing, they’re low in calories, so they can help to balance out the higher calories of some of the heavier winter dishes.
And, they provide important nutrients, like vitamin C, which supports the immune system, and beta-carotene which your body converts to vitamin A to help keep your skin and mucous membranes healthy. Vitamin C-rich citrus is at its peak in the winter, and we’ve got plenty of sources of beta-carotene to choose from now – like carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and deep leafy greens like spinach and romaine lettuce.
Another benefit of fruits and veggies is that they also provide much needed fluid. We tend to drink less in the winter time, but we still need to stay hydrated. Cold, dry winter air needs to be warmed and humidified as we breathe it in, and fluids are needed to do that. Since plain water often isn’t as appealing when the weather gets cold, fruits and veggies along with warm teas and soups are great for keeping up your fluid intake.
And if you find yourself craving spicy foods in the winter, there’s a good reason for that, too. They really can warm you up from the inside. Pungent seasonings like spicy ginger, chili, pepper and garlic can actually help to raise body temperature and help you fight off winter’s chill.