The weather outside may be frightful, as the 1940’s song says, but there are many things besides the fire that are delightful in winter. Not least rib-sticking food that warms our hearts as well as our bellies. But why is it that we feel hungrier and that we feel more licence to indulge (hot buttered toast and steaming chococcino, anyone?) as soon as the temperature drops. Do we actually, physically need to fuel up?
Studies have shown that it’s not just in your mind. We really do tend to eat more during the winter months. Ira Ockene, MD, a cardiologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has suggested it too. Winter eating could just be our primitive impulses urging us to stockpile for the cold months ahead. Which makes sense on an evolutionary level. But not so much when we have a fat carb-laden feast available around every corner. The process of digesting also warms our bodies.
It’s not just heat – some people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). A type of depression caused by a lack of exposure to light. People with SAD have lower levels of serotonin, so they seek out foods that supply a serotonin rush – usually carbohydrate-rich foods.
We should also not discount the importance of comfort. It’s cold, it’s wet, and we crave foods that will warm us up quickly, and these are often carbohydrate-rich and give us an instant “heat boost”. Unfortunately, starchy, sugary foods cause our blood sugar to spike and then rapidly fall. So, we need to eat again soon, and so the cycle continues…
And if we combine all this with reduced levels of activity as we all curl up on the couch rather than being outside (and active) – those kilograms just seem to creep on (and sometimes never leave).
So what to do?
Do you think a salad will warm you up in winter? Probably not. The truth, though, is that all foods boost our metabolism and consequently help our body temperature to rise. For many of us it’s simply a question or retraining our brains to ‘accept’ a salad rather than a bowl of macaroni cheese.
But there’s another way to keep your blood sugar in check – keep snacking!
High-protein, high-fibre snacks between meals continuously fuel your body’s heating system. And help to keep you warmer.
- Peanut butter and low-fat cream cheese on wholegrain bread or crackers are easy and yummy. Try adding peanut butter to oatmeal for an interesting snack as well.
- Try to include tuna and salmon in your diet. If you’re a sushi fan – go wild! Both salmon and tuna are really good sources of Vitamin D, which you’re going to need when the sun is no longer in sight.
- Soup is wonder comfort food, but stay away from rich creamy concoctions. If you must have soup, make it a light broth loaded with veggies. A small bowl of home-made soup with some wholegrain crackers is just what you need. For a warming, antioxidant-rich variation, add some turmeric or curry to your soup to make it zing!
- Attracting a great deal of interest in the health world at the moment is bone broth. Rich in magnesium and loaded with collagen. And it qualifies as a really good, warming snack.
- How about some real spice? Crumbed jalapenos dipped in Greek yoghurt will warm you from the inside out. Or cook up a batch of chilli (use lean meat, or go vegetarian and add extra beans, which help to stabilise blood sugar and keep you feeling full).
- Don’t forget fruit – oranges, naartjies, grapefruit, pomegranates. They are all loaded with good stuff and are freely available.
- No-one wants to give up all the good stuff though. So if hot chocolate is your thing – make it dark chocolate. Or try coconut milk-flavoured with cinnamon and cocoa. If pasta warms you up on a dark winter’s night, try switching to wholegrain pasta.
With these delicious options available, nibble choices become less stressful. You can prep the night before and have them on hand, so you hopefully won’t be tempted by that cinnamon doughnut or cheese toastie when it drifts by your desk or into your consciousness.