What are the best foods to eat in the winter?
As January turns to February, New Year’s resolutions fade into distant memories. The weather is cold and grey, and snow and ice make outdoor exercise unsafe or just unpalatable. Above all, our bodies crave comfort: fleece pajamas, wool sweaters, and comforting food. Carmen Honnef, USConnect’s own Registered Dietician and manager of our The Right Choice … for a Healthier You™ program, says: “Cold weather may tend to lead us towards comfort foods like pasta, pizza and casseroles. Enjoy these dishes by using whole grains, adding vegetables to casseroles, and limiting the saturated fat sources (like cheese and sausage) to half the amount or a lighter option.”
Cold weather drives us to food that’s hot, quick, and filling, like canned soup or fast food. We also tend to crave carbohydrates, an issue that isn’t purely psychological; the reduced sunlight in winter can lead to lower serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a naturally-occurring chemical that regulates moods and suppresses appetite. When our bodies need serotonin, what we feel is cravings for sweet or starchy carbohydrates.
Despite the fact that our bodies seem to want to fight our ability to eat healthily during the winter, there are some ways to get your body what it needs without sacrificing your diet. Read on for our dietician-certified tips for healthy eating in cold weather.
- Replace simple carbohydrates with complex ones. Instead of saltines or cookies, go for whole grains like quinoa, farro, or barley. These foods can boost serotonin without causing sleepiness or carb-overload.
- Get some sun. If the weather permits, get outside for at least 15 minutes a day. A brisk walk is good for both your body and your brain! Moving your desk to a sunny spot can also help.
- Eat for immunity. Winter vegetables like squash and Brussels sprouts are packed with vitamins and anti-oxidants. They’re also more filling that some summer vegetables like asparagus or green beans.
- Go for frozen. If you’re craving out-of-season fruits or vegetables, go for frozen instead of canned. The canning process can sacrifice many of the nutrients of fresh produce, while flash-frozen produce maintains its properties. Many canned vegetables and fruits also contain unneeded sugar or salt.
- Add some warmth to your salad. Many people avoid salads in the winter because they want something warm to counteract the cold weather. But salads and warmth do not need to be enemies; try topping your salad with something warm to counteract the chill of cold greens. As we discuss in our post on food pairings, an egg on a salad of dark greens provides extra nutritional benefits, or try grilled chicken, lean steak, or shrimp.