As the temperature drops, our nutritional needs change slightly. Here are some ideas to keep you healthy all winter long.
By Tracey Hull, MS, RD, Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital
With winter in full swing, you may have noticed cravings for creamy rich foods, warm blankets, and lazy days. Comfort food is often associated with the colder months — and for good reason. As the temperature drops and the days get shorter, our nutritional and health needs change slightly. Our energy levels may fall now that the days are darker and our body is working harder to stay warm.
Whether you’re straight-lining down the ski slopes or cuddling up on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa, here are a few interesting facts to consider about your food choices this winter.
Stay Hydrated: You may feel more bodily reminders to stay hydrated in the summer than you do in the winter. And a nice, tall glass of water does not sound as good when you are already feeling chilled to the bone. Instead, make warm liquids a regular part of your winter routine. Try including broth-based soups to your meals multiple times per week.
For kids, throw a tea party and taste test immune-boosting teas like ginger, lemon, or orange (not too hot, of course). A cozy chamomile or lavender may even help them setting down to sleep more easily. Warm liquids can also help them feel full and satisfied.
Vitamin D: Kids and adults are at risk for inadequate vitamin D during the winter. Vitamin D is important for our bone health, immune system, calcium absorption, cell growth and support, muscle function, inflammation, heart health, mood support, and so much more.
One of the best sources of Vitamin D is sunlight but, with a short supply during the winter months, you’ll need to rely on other sources like fatty fish, fortified dairy products and orange juices, and egg yolks. Ask your provider about having your Vitamin D level checked and using a supplement, because obtaining an adequate amount through diet alone is challenging.
Stay Active: Staying active during the winter can stave off cabin fever, keep your immune system up and running, and even help with your energy level during the day. It can also help preserve your muscle tone and cardiovascular fitness so you can jump back into those summer activities as soon as the temperature warms up. Just remember to dress according to the weather, watch out for frostbite, and take regular breaks inside for hydration.
Comfort Food in Balance: Calorie dense, creamy, and rich foods sound particularly delicious in the colder months because our body is looking for additional insulation in the form of body fat. This is a natural process designed to protect your body from the outside elements.
Nutrient-dense ingredients like whole grains, lean protein, and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables can help you stay full and satisfied. Use these choices as the base of your meals, then top them with a dollop of cream sauce, butter, or gravy instead of having it take over the whole dish.
Including warming foods like broth-based soups, warm teas, and winter spices — cloves, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, and cardamom — can bring a level of warmth without the richness, if that’s what you’re looking for. Recipes worth trying this winter include:
- A warm Chai Tea made from ginger, cardamom, cloves, and other delicious ingredients
- Chili made with black beans, kidney beans, red onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, carrots, tomatoes, cumin, cayenne, oregano, and smoked paprika
- Golden Milk made with turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, and milk of your choice
- A warm arugula salad topped with fresh cooked beets and roasted salmon
Tracey Hull, MS, RD is a registered dietitian at Alice Peck Day. She enjoys helping adults, kids, and families find balance with nutrition and health without creating food rules or restrictive habits.