Like ice cream on a hot day, comfort food during the cold and gloomy winter is just what your body craves, but it’s not what your body needs.
While this traditional meal may bring an instant feeling of warmth and happiness, health experts say it’s more important this time of year to eat fewer carbs and sweets and more vegetables, fruits and proteins.
“When you’re already feeling down during the winter from lack of sunshine, the last thing you need to experience is a carb crash,” said Kelly Snyder, M.D., family medicine physician with Williamson Medical Group in Franklin. “Adding more fruits, veggies, and proteins to your diet will give you essential vitamins and sustained energy to help you fight the winter blues.”
Craving carbs in the winter
It’s no coincidence a lot of people tend to gain a few extra pounds during the winter. It’s science.
“One of the things we know about carbs is they work on the ‘pleasure receptor’ in the brain—dopamine,” said Arthur Williams, D.O., family medicine physician with Williamson Medical Group. “If you hate winter, we try to make ourselves feel better by stimulating the dopamine receptor. You don’t want carrots and chicken breasts because they don’t do anything to your brain. It’s just nutrition. What you crave are carbs.”
Supplement vitamin D
Consuming foods that are high in vitamin D could help make up for the decreased amount of vitamin D caused by less sunlight, said Mary-Walker Hall, R.D., licensed dietary nutritionist at Williamson Medical Center.
Fatty fish (i.e. salmon), milk, egg yolks, fish oil, walnuts and flax seeds are all high in vitamin D.
“Canned salmon is a lot cheaper than fresh salmon but is just as loaded in vitamin D,” Hall said.
Be creative with seasonal fruits
Fresh berries and other several other popular fruits and vegetables are hard to come by during the winter, unless you want to pay an arm and a leg. Instead, Hall suggests taking advantage of the freezer section.
“You still have everything at your fingertips,” she said. “Berries, green beans…all the things you may not be able to get fresh can be found in the freezer section and involve minimal preparation.”
While Hall says frozen berries aren’t as great to snack on as fresh berries, they do taste great in oatmeal and smoothies and still pack a lot of nutrients.
“A lot of people may think smoothies are too cold to drink during the winter, but they’re a great way to get your daily fruit intake,” Hall said. “Blueberries and blackberries also taste great in different types of sauces.”
Tips for quick dinners
When it’s pitch black before get home from work, the last thing you want to do is prepare a hefty dinner that involves a lot of chopping and cutting and even more cleaning. Here are a few tips from dietitian Mary-Walker Hall, R.D., that could save you time and energy:
- Ask the grocery store butcher to cut up your meat however you’d like. Most big-chain butchers will cut up your meat and then repackage it at no additional cost.
- Buy pre-cut veggies from the salad bar. This may be a more expensive option, but if you consider time to be money, then this will be well worth the cost.
- Use the weekends to make several meals for during the week. You can store them in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to pop them in the oven.
- Take advantage of the crockpot. Your dogs may not appreciate being teased all day from the delicious aroma, but you and your family will be thankful when you can come home to a hot meal that’s ready to serve.
- Try out sheet-pan dinners. This is the latest rage on Pinterest because they’re ideal for anyone who hates cleaning a million pots and pans. It involves placing all your meats and vegetables on one pan and then cooking everything at the same time. And if you don’t feel like cutting, re-read bullets 1 and 2.
With less exposure to sunlight during the winter months, it’s important to incorporate into your diet more food items that are high in vitamin D, said Mary-Walker Hall, R.D. Foods that are rich in vitamin D include fatty fish, milk, egg yolks, walnuts and flax seeds.
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