It's all too easy to pack a healthy diet away with your summer clothes. In the winter, it's cold, the days are short, and your body is craving comfort food.
But in this day and age even when the North American growing season is done, the produce section at the store has plenty of colorful and nutritious fruits and vegetables from around the world to try. Here are a few recipes to get your creative juices flowing. Try something new. With just a little effort, we think you'll find a new favorite or two.
Eat high-quality carbs.
The reason we crave higher-carbohydrate foods in the winter is because our bodies are using up our stores of serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical our brains release that help us feel good. Cravings come when our serotonin levels are running low. The good news? Carbohydrates are a natural boost for serotonin. The bad news? Not all carbs are created equal. That's why it's important to choose nutritious whole grains and healthy carbs like sweet potatoes, pumpkins, or squash. (More on these later.)
Enjoy Nature's winter harvest.
Cold weather actually brings us many delicious and healthy choices: pomegranates, purple grapes, oranges, tangerines, cranberries, and root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes. Other "cold crops" that can be harvested later include garlic and onions. To brighten up your plate, add some nuts, cranberries or roasted garlic to some green beans, and you're in for a flavorful treat. Better yet, it's full of good nutrition.
Get enough Vitamin D.
There are different kinds of Vitamin D. But basically, it's a vitamin we get most from spending time in the sun. That's why it's often called "The Sunshine Vitamin." The sun's rays on our skin kick off the metabolic process that produces Vitamin D.
But in winter, sunshine is less likely. Meanwhile, cold weather is more likely to keep us inside. So we need to think about our Vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D is important because it's shown to help our bodies keep healthy levels of calcium and phosphorus. In turn, these help other body functions.
Vitamin D is also big for bone health and muscle strength. In fact, it has been blamed for weak muscles. Also, not having enough Vitamin D can lead to joint pain. WebMD says adults older than 50 often don't get enough Vitamin D. This gets worse as we age, too, because our bodies are not as good at producing Vitamin D from the sun's rays.
Another note: people with dark skin seem to be at higher risk of not getting enough Vitamin D from the sun alone.
So how do we fix this? One way is through the foods we eat. Vitamin D is found in egg yolks, "fortified" dairy products like yogurt, and "fatty" fish like salmon, tuna, or sardines. These also have high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, which may help lower blood cholesterol. Unfortunately, you would have to eat a lot of sardines to boost your Vitamin D to the levels you need. That's why many doctors say it's best to take a daily Vitamin D supplement – a pill or tablet that adds Vitamin D to your diet – during the fall and winter.
Need another reason for a Vitamin D supplement? Here's a big one: Doctors say a daily dose may lower your risk of colon, breast, and ovarian cancer.
Vitamin C and probiotics may help with colds.
While there's no cure for the common cold, studies say that 1,000 mg of Vitamin C may make a cold less severe, and help it end sooner. Another study says that yogurt with active culture or other sources of probiotics – "good" bacteria living in your intestines and helping to keep you healthy – can shorten a cold's life by as much as two days.
As we said, it's good to eat fish – many doctors say at least twice a week – to help you get more Vitamin D. But a person can't live on fish alone (or at least most of us don't want to). So below are some fruits and vegetables to add color to your plate, texture and flavor to your meal, and vitamins to your diet.
At first, your store's winter produce aisle might hardly seem like a bountiful harvest. But look a little closer. Persimmons, kiwi fruit, oranges, pears, rutabagas – and why limit cranberries and nuts to the holidays? All these winter choices offer good solid nutrition – as well as healthy helpings of Vitamins D and C.
Here, from WebMD, are 15 fruits and vegetables that are usually in stock at stores during the winter season, as well as some favorites that can be found all year.
Use them raw in salads, as a snack with cheese, or as dippers for fondue. Use them cooked in crisps and other desserts, muffins, and main dishes. (Tip: Asian pears usually take longer to cook than regular pears because of their crunchy texture.)
One Asian pear counts for almost 10 percent of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C.
Cranberries can be used whole. Just rinse them briefly in cold water. Make them an accent fruit in pies and crisps, pudding, and jams, or use them as a featured ingredient in muffins, breads, cakes, and sauces. They're also great on salads – especially with walnuts.
One-half cup of uncooked cranberries contains 9 percent of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C. Cranberries can be refrigerated for up to a week, or frozen for later use.
You can keep unwashed green beans in a plastic bag for up to four days in the refrigerator. Green beans are most often cooked by microwaving, steaming, stir-frying, or boiling. Snap or cut off the ends, cut longer beans crosswise into the length you want, and rinse before cooking. The key is to cook until the beans are just tender-crisp. If you like stir-fry, cut the beans into 1-inch pieces so they'll cook as fast as the other items in the wok.
One cup of raw snap green beans dishes up 11 percent of the recommended daily amount of folic acid, Vitamin A and Vitamin B2, and 24 percent of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C.
You can store guavas at room temperature for up to one week, or refrigerate them for up to two weeks.
Use uncooked guavas in recipes instead of strawberries or kiwi fruit. You can also use them cooked in pies, breads, or preserves, and cold or hot in sauces, juices, or sorbets.
One guava has 10 percent of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, and 220 percent of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C.
Kiwi fruit is usually eaten raw. Pureed kiwi can be used for all types of sorbet, smoothies, or even margaritas. Kiwi is beautiful in desserts and salads.
Kiwis are ready to eat when they give slightly to gentle pressure. Kiwi fruit that's really soft is too ripe to eat. Allow kiwi to ripen at room temperature.
One kiwi contains 76 percent of the recommended daily amount for Vitamin C.
Kumquats look like little oval oranges. But you can eat them peel and all! Whole, chopped, sliced, or halved, they're delicious on all kinds of salads. You can also cook them pretty much any way you want. Kumquat flavors go well with fish, pork, game meat, and in marmalade or relish.
Four kumquats offer about 38 percent of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C.
The juiciest oranges will feel heavy for their size. Eat them as a snack, or use them in salads or desserts. You can also put oranges in sauces or preserves, and use their zest (gratings of the outer peel) to flavor fish, chicken, and other dishes.
One orange (2 1/8-inch diameter) serves up 11 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B1 and folic acid, and an amazing 107 percent of Vitamin C.
They're great raw as a snack (try them with a mild cheese). Some dessert recipes call for pears, and they work well in cooked dishes, too. Pears are sweeter and softer than apples, so may need a bit less cooking time and sweetening.
One pear (D'Anjou type) gives you 11 percent of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C.
There are two major kinds of persimmons. The first is a heart-shaped persimmon called a "Hachiya." This kind needs to be ripened to a jelly-like texture before using. The second, the tomato-shaped "Fuyu," can be eaten either when it's firm like an apple or a little soft.
Chop or slice Hachiya persimmons into salads and other cold dishes. Puree the softer Fuyu and use it to replace half of the butter or margarine on your toast. You can also use the Fuyu persimmons in cookies, quick bread, muffins, or cakes.
One persimmon (2 ½ -inch diameter) offers 13 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B6, 17 percent of Vitamin C, and 52 percent of Vitamin A.
The ancient winter fruit of Greek myth is alive and well and keeping us healthy today.
Colorful pomegranate seeds are very popular as a garnish for salads, meat dishes, and desserts. And their juice is great for sorbets, sauces, smoothies, and fruit juice blends.
To get to the seeds without splattering yourself with bright red juice, take a deep bowl and fill it partway with water. Cut the pomegranate into quarters under the water, and then gently nudge the seeds loose. The seeds will float, so you can easily lift them out of the bowl with a slotted spoon or your hands.
One pomegranate packs 12 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B6, Vitamin C, and potassium.
Use quince as you'd use apples, in sweet or savory dishes. One quince has 18 percent of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C.
Rutabagas have an earthy, peppery flavor and can be part of a raw veggie platter. They can also be cooked – in slices, cubes, or wedges – until just tender by roasting, steaming, or microwaving. After washing them, use a potato peeler to take off the skin, then cut them into whatever shape you wish.
One cup of uncooked rutabaga cubes is good for around 12 percent of the recommended daily amount of magnesium, vitamin B1, B6, potassium, and Vitamin A; 47 percent of Vitamin C; and about 0.1 grams of plant omega-3 fatty acids.
Sweet Potatoes or Yams
Sweet potatoes are truly a winter "super food." They can be baked, boiled, steamed, or microwaved. Their taste tends to get more sweet with storage and cooking. If baking whole, pierce each sweet potato several times with a fork to let the steam out as they cook. A potato peeler works well to peel the sweet potato.
One cup of raw cubed sweet potatoes has 18 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B2, 26 percent of vitamin B6, 40 percent of Vitamin C, and a huge 380 percent of Vitamin A.
One-half cup of baked and mashed yams dishes up around 10 percent of the recommended daily amount of potassium and vitamin B2, 19 percent of vitamin B6, 33 percent of Vitamin C, and over 300 percent of Vitamin A.
Tangerines are less acidic than most citrus fruits. Use them as you would oranges in fruit or green salads, stir them into yogurt or cottage cheese, or top a dessert with them. They're great in whole-grain muffins with cranberries, too!
One tangerine (2 ½ -inch diameter) holds 13 percent of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin A, and 40 percent of Vitamin C.
If uncut, winter squash with hard rinds can be kept in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place for between one and four months. Once the squash is cut, though, you'll need to put the pieces in a plastic bag and keep them in the refrigerator.
Winter squash has to be cooked. But you can cook it many ways: steam it, bake it, or microwave it. To bake, place the halves or pieces flesh-side down on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray or canola or olive oil, and bake in a 375-degree to 400-degree oven until tender.
It's often easier to cut the squash into pieces and remove the seeds before cooking but wait to cut the flesh away from a squash's thick outer shell until afterward. Squash shells are hard, so you'll need a good strong knife.
One cup of uncooked butternut squash cubes serve about 9 percent of the recommended daily amount of folic acid; 13 percent of Vitamins B1, B3, and potassium; 15 percent of magnesium; 17 percent of vitamin B6; 39 percent of Vitamin C; and 150 percent of Vitamin A.
Staying healthy in winter doesn't have to be hard. Eat fresh, avoid "bad" carbs, make sure you're getting enough Vitamins C and D, and don't forget to exercise. And for good measure, here are a few tips from livestrong.com: