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Foods and Drinks to keep you Healthy this Winter

Marielle Suddarth, (pictured) NSCA CPT Coach and Operations Director at The New Beginnings Center offers some suggestions on how you can eat well during the Winter-and not pack on the pounds.

As winter approaches we commonly crave hearty comfort foods that, more often than not, help us pack on some winter weight. There are different theories as to why this is seemingly instinctual for us. Is it our animal nature, preparing for the harshness of winter, even though we are not half as exposed to the elements in our modern day life? Or is it simply that the traditional hearty winter and holiday meals consist of comfort foods, high in simple carbohydrates and processed fats? Whatever the reason – there are some healthier foods and beverages you can focus on and incorporate this winter!

Protein plays an integral part in the makeup of a healthy body regardless of the seasons. Our body relies on protein to build muscle, control blood sugar levels, increase energy, and increase mental focus. Additionally, protein keeps you satiated longer than other macronutrients, and will help to decrease cravings. All of these benefits are valuable – especially when approaching the holiday season! Good sources of protein include chicken, turkey, fish, grass-fed beef, eggs, and unsweetened Greek yogurt. Regarding your holiday meals, protein is priority number one. When you eat your protein first you will not only feel fuller, longer, but you also burn more calories to digest it than any other macronutrient (this is the thermic effect of food). Some favorite on-the-go protein snacks include boiled eggs, whey protein, tuna in a pouch, and quality protein bars high in protein and low in carbohydrates.

Mental health and mood is another area of our lives that can be affected in the winter months. Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), or Winter Depression, affects 4-6% of adults, with an additional 10-20% affected by mild depression. The symptoms of S.A.D. include weight gain, a change in appetite (especially with cravings of sweet or starchy foods), low or decreased energy levels, fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, and avoidance of social situations (specifically wanting to stay home).

With this in mind, eating foods high in Vitamin D increases in importance throughout the winter months, as it helps to combat S.A.D and depression. Vitamin D is responsible for activating genes that regulate our neurotransmitters and that directly affect brain function and development. Additionally, Vitamin D aids with hormone regulation, immunity, and the absorption of calcium. Current research shows that 42% of adults are Vitamin D deficient, which not only potentially affects mood, but could also be connected to chronic diseases prevalent in the United States today, like cardiovascular disease and cancer. The best source of Vitamin D is exposure to sunlight, which is why it is especially challenging to get in the winter months. Aside from sun exposure, you can increase Vitamin D levels through dietary means, which is definitely more practical in the winter. Some of the best options for this include fish oil, sardines, salmon, eggs, and unsweetened Greek yogurt.

Staying hydrated is always a focus during the summer months, when you sweat more it serves as a clear reminder to rehydrate your body, but as the weather cools this remains an easily forgotten but equally important task! Proper hydration promotes cardiovascular health, improves muscle and joint function, and most importantly helps our kidneys to cleanse our blood of toxins and waste. Without enough water in our systems our kidneys cannot work to their full potential – which can lead to many serious health problems.

There are numerous beverages available on the market – but many of these can do more harm than good! Ideally you want drink unprocessed beverages with zero caloric value. This definitely rules out a lot, but also eliminates sugary drinks that are obviously harmful to health like sodas, as well as those sneaky drinks that are marketed as “healthy” but are not necessarily so. These beverages include most sugary sports drinks, processed juices, and sweetened flavored waters. When the goal is hydration it pays to keep it simple and hydrate with the basics!

Drinking a glass of water before each meal is a great way to incorporate your daily water and help you eat less while you are at it. Eating plenty of vegetables is another crucial step towards staying hydrated. Vegetables have a high water content which helps keep you full, hydrated, and consuming fewer calories all at the same time. Another healthy beverage option is green tea, especially for winter, since we all crave something hot to drink in the colder seasons! Green tea has many health benefits, it is high in antioxidants, improves brain function, boosts your metabolic rate, and encourages fat loss, to name just a few. It should be mentioned that black coffee, though having benefits of its own, does not aid hydration as it is a diuretic. However, having a cup or two a day is okay, so long as you incorporate other hydrating methods as well!

Staying hydrated, eating enough protein, and ensuring you are getting enough vitamin D is essential to your health all year round, but especially so in the winter. Nearly all of the previously mentioned food options that are high in Vitamin D are also good sources of protein. By including these in your regular diet you will be “killing two birds with one stone” in tackling any potential winter blues and cravings! Ensuring you get enough protein, Vitamin D, and proper hydration this winter, you will lower the possibility of gaining the dreaded “holiday weight” and increase the likelihood of a truly happy holiday season!


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