When winter arrives, it's easy to pack your healthy eating away with your summer clothes. After all, the season’s colder, shorter days leave you craving comfort food. And comfort food tends to be rich and heavy rather than lean and healthy.
The problem? Once spring arrives, you welcome it with a little too much extra padding and possibly not as healthy as you were before. The solution? Follow these tips for good winter nutrition.
Eat high-quality carbs
We crave carbs in the winter because our bodies are using up our stores of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps us feel good. The good news is that carbohydrates are a natural boost for serotonin. The bad news is that 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 over sugary options like cakes and cookies.
Enjoy nature's winter harvest
Cold weather actually brings us many delicious and healthy choices including pomegranates, purple grapes, oranges, tangerines, cranberries, and root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes. Try something new and different with these fruits and veggies like adding pomegranate seeds or grapes to salads or cutting root veggies into French fry shapes and roasting them.
Get enough vitamin D
Vitamin D helps our bodies maintain healthy levels of calcium and phosphorus as well as strong bones and muscle strength. Also, not having enough of this nutrient can lead to joint pain. It’s often called "The Sunshine Vitamin" because we get most of our vitamin D from the sun. But in winter, sunshine is less likely and we’re inside more often so it’s crucial to get your 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.
Prevent colds with vitamin C and probiotics
While there's no cure for the common cold, studies say that 1,000 mg of vitamin C may make those sniffles less severe and help it end sooner. Yogurt with active cultures or other sources of probiotics, a "good" bacteria living in your intestines, can shorten a cold's life span by as much as two days.
On first glance, your store's winter 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, kiwi fruit, oranges, pears, rutabagas, and cranberries. All these winter choices offer solid nutrition as well as healthy helpings of vitamins D and C. Here are a few you should try:
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.
Don’t save these berries for just the holidays! 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% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C.
Raw snap green beans dish up nutrients like folic acid, vitamins A, B2, and vitamin C. You can microwave, steam, stir-fry, or boil your green beans, just make sure to snap or cut off the ends, and rinse before cooking. 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.
Use uncooked guavas in recipes instead of strawberries or kiwi fruit or use them cooked in pies, breads, or preserves, and cold or hot in sauces, juices, or sorbets. One guava has 10% of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, and 220% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C.
Pureed kiwi can be used for all types of sorbet, smoothies, or even margaritas. Slices of this green fruit are beautiful in desserts and salads. Allow kiwi to ripen at room temperature and when they yield to gentle pressure, they’re ready to eat. One kiwi contains 76% 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 in 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% 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% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B1 and folic acid, and an amazing 107% 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% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C.
There are two 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 soft. 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 the Fuyu persimmons in cookies, quick bread, muffins, or cakes. One persimmon (2 ½ -inch diameter) offers 13% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B6, 17% of vitamin C, and 52% of vitamin A.
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. The neatest, most effective way to remove the seeds is to 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 float, so you can easily lift them out of the bowl with a slotted spoon or your hands. One pomegranate packs 12% of the recommended daily amount of vitamins and vitamin B6 and C, and potassium.
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 has around 12% of the recommended daily amount of magnesium, vitamin B1, B6, potassium, and vitamin A and 47% of vitamin C.
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 they cook. One cup of raw cubed sweet potatoes has 18% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B2, 26% of vitamin B6, 40 percent of vitamin C, and 380% of vitamin A.
Winter squash can be steamed, baked, or microwaved. To bake, place the 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. One cup of uncooked butternut squash cubes serve about 9% of the recommended daily amount of folic acid; 13% of vitamins B1 and B3, and potassium, 15% of magnesium, 17% of vitamin B6, 39 percent of vitamin C; and 150% of vitamin A.
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