Winter months can be a bit more challenging compared to bright, summer days. It affects more than your wardrobe of choice and heating bill because it’s the peak time for cold and flu, seasonal mood changes, and change in eating/exercise habits. Approximately, half a million of the U.S. population suffers from winter “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD) due to a lack of sunshine. Weight gain is also pretty common as a result of holiday parties and reduced physical activity. While it is convenient to stay indoors and indulge on comfort foods this time of the year, it is important to incorporate nutritious foods that will strengthen your immune system and provide the support it needs to keep you healthy and strong this winter! Below are essential winter foods you should be eating regularly in Winter:
- Eat seasonal and local when possible: Take advantage of vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, root vegetables (sweet potatoes, yam, parsnips,), dark-leafy vegetables (spinach, collard greens), and a variety of onions this winter. Dark orange vegetables such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, and carrots provide immune nourishing beta-carotene, a form of Vitamin A, which is great for eyesight and eliminating free radicals. Fruits such as pomegranates, apples, and citrus fruits are at their prime around this time of the year which are full of immune boosting Vitamin C.
- Cooking Tip: Root vegetables can be enjoyed by roasting it with olive oil, salt, and pepper while dark leafy vegetables can be added to hearty soups and stews.
- Incorporate Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are essential ‘good’ fats that needs to be obtained from diet as our body cannot produce them. Oily, fatty fish (mackerel, herring, salmon, sardines, anchovies) are the best sources of omega-3s because they contain the “more potent” forms of omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Flaxseed, hemp, canola and walnut oils are all rich sources of another omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) but our livers are limited in their abilities to convert ALA. It is estimated that only 5 to 15 percent of ALA is ultimately converted to EPA and DHA . Many studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids have the ability to reduce depression and depression like symptoms. Additionally, it provides satiety, reduce inflammation, decreases the urge to eat empty calories especially during SAD, and help regulate the body’s temperature and keep it warm.
- Get your Vitamin D: Studies have linked Vitamin D to increase immunity and lower depression like symptoms. Even though the studies are still inconclusive, it is strongly advised to stay out in the sun as much as possible in order to beat winter blues. Additionally, incorporate fatty fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, and eel, certain types of mushrooms, fortified vitamin D milk and orange juice.
- Don’t undermine B Vitamins: Vitamin B provides support to brain health and possibly help manufacture neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Natural sources of vitamin B12 are only found in animal products, such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy, and cannot be made in the body. As there are no vegetarian sources of vitamin B12, vegetarians need to supplement it. Niacin (vitamin B3) is made in the body and can also be found in a variety of foods such as milk, eggs, yeast, beans, meat and fish. Thiamin (vitamin B1) can be found in foods such as grains and yeast, as well as in dairy products.
- Immune Boosting Vitamin C: There are mixed results as to whether or not vitamin C reduces the severity of a cold/flu. They are an essential vitamin that help keep our immune system strong and healthy. Some of the top vitamin C packed fruits and vegetables include broccoli, orange, Brussels sprouts, kiwi, and guava. Since Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, lightly blanch or steam vegetables to maintain as many nutrients as possible.
- Spices and herbs: Spices and herbs not only add flavor but helps improve blood circulation and keeps us internally warm. Heating spices such as black pepper, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, star anise are great for baking. Spices such as turmeric, caraway, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper and herbs like ginger, garlic, and sage can be used for roasting vegetables, meat dishes, and added to soups/stews.
I’d like to share a recipe for tea that I regularly use during winter months; it uses an anti-inflammatory ingredient ‘turmeric’ and warming herbs and spices like ginger and black pepper. I hope you give it a try this winter.
- 3 cups water or milk
- 1-inch fresh ginger, peeled and diced
- 1 teaspoon powdered turmeric
- 1 lemon, juiced (skip if using milk)
- honey per taste.
- Boil 3 cups of water or milk in a sauce pan.
- Remove the sauce pan from heat and add ginger and turmeric.
- Stir, cover and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Strain ginger before pouring into cups; add honey if desired before drinking.
- If using water, split the lemon juice between two cups. When the tea is ready, strain ginger and pour tea in cups. Stir in honey and enjoy it hot.