Beat the Winter Blues with Winter Foods

Photo by Julie Magro. Used under a Creative Commons attribution license. Doesn't it look delicious?

Using the seasons to frame how you think about the foods you eat is great way to be health conscious. There are a number of important reasons to be conscious of what we eat in the winter months.

For one, though there’s always an abundance of delicious holiday foods available at parties and family events in December… but many of these foods are high-fat, processed, and generally not the healthiest choices. (If you need a primer about making healthier food choices during the holidays, see our post about Thanksgiving eating – it’s also very applicable to this time of year.)

In the winter it’s also important to give your body the fuel it needs to succeed in your workouts. Our bodies’ nutritional needs change slightly in the winter months, especially if we’re feeling low energy or suffering from the winter blues – fight back by adding more healthy carbohydrates and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables before engaging in winter activities.

Winter sport enthusiasts take special note: eating a healthy meal before your workout helps warm up our muscles which in turn makes them work more efficiently. Eating balanced and nutritious meals during the winter months helps maintain body heat and increase the metabolic process.

Cold weather also generally means cold and flu season. Making some simple changes to what you eat can help boost your immune system and stave off sickness.
Eating in-season foods also increases your environmental friendliness and will likely save you money. In-season winter foods generally are grown closer to home and also generally are less expensive.

Here are some of our favourite winter foods for fueling your workouts, staying on track with your weight loss goals, and fighting off sickness.

Sweet potatoes: this delicious root vegetable grows well into the late fall. They are full of beta-carotene, which your body then transforms into Vitamin A. This essential nutrient helps support the immune system. These delicious root veggies are also full of potassium and fiber. Do keep in mind that they have a high sugar content so use them in moderation. Add sweet potatoes to a pan full of roasted root vegetables for a warming winter dish!

Squash: There’s a wide array of winter squashes available. Try out a few varieties and see which you like best! They are usually quite inexpensive and can last two months or longer unrefrigerated. Spaghetti squash can be roasted and its string-like consistency makes a good, low-calorie substitute for pasta. Butternut is a great choice for making soups and stews. Acorn squash is fantastic stuffed with quinoa other seasonal vegetables. Nearly all varieties of winter squash are full of Vitamin A. They are also sources of Vitamins C and B6 – both of which also assist in immune function.

Mushrooms: Low-fat, low-calorie and full of flavour, mushrooms are a great addition to your winter diet. Shiitakes are our favourite, but there are many varieties to choose from. Mushrooms sometimes get a bad rap as fungi, a notion which puts some people off, but they’re actually quite healthy and boast many nutritional benefits . In general mushrooms are full of B vitamins, selenium, zinc, iron and potassium. Mushrooms are also a good food source for Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin”, in which most Canadians are deficient during the winter. Check out this delicious, low-fat and immune boosting hot & sour mushroom-based soup from Dr. Oz.

Kale: Dark, leafy greens are your friend during the winter months and kale is an excellent choice amongst them. In addition to being low-gylcemic and anti-inflammatory, kale is rich in vitamins A, C and K. Kale is also a good source of protein, calcium and iron, Add kale to soups, salads, stir-fries and casseroles or have it as a side-dish on its own.

Garlic: Another super-immune booster and virus fighter, garlic is a great addition to any winter meal. According to WebMD just one clove of raw garlic contains 5 mg of calcium, 12 mg of potassium and enough bacterial fighting properties to help stop a cold dead in its tracks . In clinical trials garlic has been found to be beneficial in lowering cholestrol and blood pressure. Garlic is extremely versatile and complements all of the other winter foods we’ve already mentioned quite nicely.

If you need some extra help around making healthier food choices during or throughout the holidays or just generally throughout the winter months, you can always make an appointment with one of WFCC’s fantastic Registered Nutritionists. We’re always delighted to help!