10 Feb Winter Eating can be Healthy!
By Alexsandra Rehlinger, ML Nutritionist.
Keeping to a healthy diet throughout the winter can be a challenge. Because of the colder weather we may crave rich food for the extra calories that will help us stay warm. This often leads to eating quick fix foods and meals with low nutrient content and ‘empty calories’ forcing us into a spiral of hunger. This habit of eating to please rather than nourish can lead to unnecessary weight gain and fluctuations in energy levels, however it doesn’t have to be this way, in winter we can celebrate warm nourishment.
In Traditional Chinese Food Medicine, longer, slower cooking times using different cooking methods from summer and spring are used to add warmth and nourishment through the winter months. Choosing to roast and bake gives us a deeper more supportive warmth in ourselves. This approach is supported in modern clinical nutrition as this type of cooked food is easier to digest, requiring less energy to extract nutrients and leaving more energy available in your body for other key homeostatic functions at this time – like keeping warm! Maintaining our body temperature is paramount to body function influencing pH and enzyme activity.
Choosing to support ourselves in this holistic way means selecting foods that take longer to grow such as root vegetables, squashes and cruciferous vegetables. Compared with leafy vegetables (salad type leaves etc) which grow quickly, not deeply, and are water rich these long growing foods are rich in fibre and nutrient content. Root vegetables and crucifers therefore make better winter choices. Including more compact dense foods that give lots of energy (disproportionate to their size) such as beans, pulses, seeds and whole grains is equally valuable at this time of year. These high quality complex carbohydrates have more fibre, take longer to cook and longer to digest…giving us slow released energy when we need it, helping to keep us warmer for longer.
High quality complex carbohydrates such as these also help transport more serotonin across the blood brain barrier and with long dark days and less light our levels of stored serotonin can become depleted, if they are not low already considering our northern geography. These lower Glycemic Index carbohydrates allow us to support our desire for more sugars but with higher quality nutrition that doesn’t sabotage our health.
Unsurprisingly seasonal vegetables are appropriate for the season and our health. Cabbage, carrots, leeks, celeriac and cauliflower are all in season and although they may seem stodgy they are perfect for hearty stews, soups and casseroles that help keep our energy and blood sugar stable in the demanding colder temperatures. Adding vegetables to a meal is one of the easiest ways to add flavour and depth as well as keeping you fuller for longer and ensuring you have more energy for prolonged periods. Through following this approach snacking on high calorie foods becomes less necessary because you’ve already been adequately nourished!
You may find yourself falling back on typical comfort foods like the good old potato. This can add lots of starchy carbohydrates to your meal but unfortunately can also adversely affect our health goals for a variety of reasons. Although these starchy foods are not bad for us, they are best eaten only in the earlier part of the day and not on a regular basis. A good alternative is the small new potato that has less starch or substituting the simple white potato with other seasonal roots and rounds like celeriac, carrots and cauliflower – which all make yummy mash and will bring a plethora of varied nutrients to your diet whilst reducing your starchy carbohydrate intake.
Other ideal winter foods include legumes such as beans and lentils, these are hearty, warming, satisfying and versatile. Nutritionally, they are nearly fat free, high in protein and great sources of dietary fibre. Because so many cultures rely on legumes as a key part of their diet, recipes from nearly every cuisine can keep your taste buds entertained on cold dark night. Adding warming spices from around the globe to your winter meals can add plenty of satisfying flavour without fat.
Winter has its challenges but healthy eating doesn’t have to be one of them!
If you would like a more in depth understanding of how your diet may be effecting your health then please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on nutritional consultations and find out more about Alexsandra here