How to deal with winter weight gain

Senior man sitting on porch steps with mobile phone

During colder weather, it's easy to pack your healthy eating away with your summer clothes. The colder, shorter days can leave us craving comfort food. And comfort food tends to be rich and heavy rather than lean and healthy.

The problem? Once spring arrives, you may welcome it with a little too much extra padding! The solution? Follow these tips for good nutrition all year long.

Eat high-quality carbohydrates

According to a landmark 1995 study still cited today, We crave carbs in the winter because our bodies are using up our stores of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps us feel good. Carbohydrates are a natural boost for serotonin.1

But not all carbs are created equal.2 That's why it's important to choose nutritious whole grains and other healthy carbs like sweet potatoes, pumpkins or squash instead of sugary options like cakes, cookies and soft drinks.

Get enough vitamin D

Vitamin D helps our bodies maintain healthy levels of calcium and phosphorus as well as strong bones and muscles. Vitamin D is often called "the sunshine vitamin" because sun exposure is an easy, reliable way for most people to get vitamin D.3 But in winter, sunshine is less likely, and we’re inside more often, so it’s crucial to get your vitamin D from foods like egg yolks, fortified dairy products like yogurt, and fish like salmon, tuna or sardines. You can also talk to your doctor about taking a daily vitamin D supplement.

Good nutrition throughout the year

As winter comes to a close, your store's produce aisle may not seem as bright and colorful as it is in summer. But look closer and you’ll find an array of delicious options like persimmons, oranges, pears, rutabagas and cranberries—healthy fruits and vegetables that can typically be found in grocery stores throughout the year. Here are a few you may want to introduce into your diet this year:

Asian pears

High in vitamin C, Asian pears are great in salads, as a snack with cheese or as dippers for fondue. They’re also delicious 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.)

Cranberries

Don’t save these berries, rich in vitamin C, for just the holidays! Make them an accent fruit in pies and crisps, puddings and jams, or use them as a featured ingredient in muffins, breads, cakes and sauces. They're also great on salads.

Guava fruit

Guava fruits can be a tasty substitute for strawberries or kiwi fruit in pies, breads or preserves. They’re also good either cold or hot in sauces, juices or sorbets. Guava fruits contain vitamins A and B-6 and are a great source of vitamin C.

Kumquats

Kumquats look like little oval oranges, but you can eat them peel and all! Whole, chopped, sliced or halved, they're delicious in all kinds of salads. You can also cook them pretty much any way you want. Kumquat flavors go well with fish, pork and game meat, and in marmalade or relish.

Oranges

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. Oranges are well-known as a source of vitamin C and also provide a healthy dose of vitamin B-1 and folic acid.

Pears

Great raw as a snack, pears also work well cooked in savory dishes. Pears are sweeter and softer than apples, so they may need a bit less sweetening and cooking time.

Persimmons

There are 2 major kinds of persimmons. The heart-shaped persimmon is called a "Hachiya" and 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 softer. Chop or slice Hachiya persimmons into salads and other cold dishes. Puree the softer Fuyu to replace half of the butter or margarine on your toast. You can also use Fuyu persimmons in cookies, quick bread, muffins or cakes. Persimmons are a great source of vitamin B-6, vitamin C and vitamin A.

Pomegranate seeds

Colorful pomegranate seeds are very popular as a garnish for salads, meat dishes and desserts. Their juice is great for sorbets, sauces, smoothies and fruit juice blends. A clean and effective way to remove the seeds from a pomegranate is to fill a deep bowl partway with water. Cut the pomegranate into quarters under the water and then gently nudge the seeds loose. The seeds float, so you can easily scoop them out of the bowl. Pomegranates provide vitamins B-6 and C, as well as a healthy dose of potassium.

Rutabagas

Rutabagas have an earthy, peppery flavor and can be part of a raw veggie platter. They can also be peeled and cooked—in slices, cubes or wedges—by roasting, steaming or microwaving until just tender. They’re a good source of magnesium and vitamin C, as well as vitamins B-1, B-6 and potassium.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are truly a winter "super food." They can be baked, boiled, steamed or microwaved. Their taste tends to get sweeter with storage and cooking. If baking whole, pierce each sweet potato several times with a fork to let the steam out as it cooks. They’re a tasty way to get a dose of vitamins B-2, B-6, and C, and they’re an excellent source of vitamin A.

Sources

  1. Richard J. Wurtman and Judith J. Wurtman, “Brain serotonin, carbohydrate-craving, obesity and depression,” Obesity Research, November 1995, last accessed Oct. 14, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1550-8528.1995.tb00215.x , opens new window.
  2. “Winter Depression? Eat These Foods to Help Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD),” EatingWell, last accessed October 14, 2019, http://www.eatingwell.com/article/274724/winter-depression-eat-these-foods-to-help-treat-seasonal-affective-disorder/ , opens new window.
  3. “Vitamin D,” WebMD, last accessed October 14, 2019, https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-929/vitamin-d , opens new window.