KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. — In the winter, we tend to reduce our physical activity, spend more time indoors, and consume higher calorie and sugar holiday comfort foods. This can set us up for poor nutrition/lifestyle choices. Also, when body temperature decreases it increases your appetite, as eating generates heat and helps warm your body. This can lead to over-eating and weight gain. Eating healthy in the winter is important for staying warm, keeping your immune system up, and to maintain a healthy weight.
Make sure to eat well rounded meals that have a healthy source of complex high fiber carbohydrates, a lot of vegetables and fruit, and contain a lean protein source. This will help you feel less hungry, avoid cravings, and keep you warm throughout the day. Make sure to set an eating schedule and stick to it to avoid cravings. Typically every 3 to 4 hours is a good amount of time between meals & snacks.
Having a healthy immune system will also help ward off germs and decrease the duration of colds and other sicknesses. Consuming a lot of fruits and vegetables during the winter that are rich in antioxidants and Vitamin C such as pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots, spinach and broccoli will help keep your immune system strong. Probiotics are also recommended to help restore the good bacteria in our body and avoid infection. You can find probiotics naturally in yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut but sometimes these might be high in sugar, so a probiotic supplement would also be something to think about.
Continue to stay active and exercise in the winter to also help with avoiding weight gain. A lot of times we do less activity in the winter due to the cold weather outside. Make it a priority to get the same amount of exercise or more that you were getting when it was warm outside. Add extra steps by parking farther away or taking the stairs at work. This not only will help your weight but also warm you up! You can still exercise outside in the winter, just make sure to stay hydrated! Failing to drink enough water is one of the biggest mistakes that outdoor exercisers make in the winter. You tend to feel less thirsty in the cold; however, you are still losing water through sweat and humidifying the cold dry winter air that you are breathing. Dehydration hurts performance significantly so keep on track with your hydration by keeping a water bottle on you at all times. You can warm yourself up and keep hydrated by consuming warm beverages/soups as well such as mulled cider, hot cocoa, hot tea, and steaming soup. The warm food added to the thermogenic effect of eating will help you warm up and recover faster after exercise.
Another reason eating healthy can be challenging in the winter is because of the lack of sunlight. Less sunlight means there can be a drop in our serotonin levels which can cause depression and food cravings. Try to get outside when the sun is still out in the winter months to help avoid this. It is also a good idea not only for your serotonin levels but also for Vitamin D. Sunlight is our best source of vitamin D and without as much sunshine in the winter you are more prone to having lower levels. Getting enough vitamin D helps decrease your risk for certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, and can increase your performance and energy. You may also want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement and eating more vitamin D fortified foods in the winter such as milk, orange juice, salmon, and eggs.
Follow this advice and you will be sure to stay on track with your healthy eating, keep warm, avoid weight gain and even improve your overall physical performance and mental health!