Eating well throughout the winter is not just about navigating holiday parties and avoiding winter weight gain. It’s about eating foods that will help you stay warm, maintain energy and fend off illness during the shorter days and longer nights. Here are three foods to help you thrive during the coldest months of the year.
The warm dry air in heated homes and offices can tax your skin’s ability to hold onto moisture and maintain its barrier against bacteria and irritants. Staying hydrated in winter is paramount for maintaining glowing skin and supporting optimal organ function. Drinking tea is one way to help meet your body’s needs for fluids this time of year.
In Chinese medicine, black tea is thought to have warming qualities, while green tea, which is less fermented, is more cooling. Either can be helpful during the winter: a cup of oolong, English breakfast or pu-erh tea to stoke your inner furnace, or cooling green or white tea as an anti-inflammatory drink.
Both kinds of tea contain polyphenols (highest in green tea), which support cardiovascular health and may help prevent certain cancers, and catechins, which were shown in a recent study on green tea to keep skin healthier by increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery to the skin.
I like to brew ginger tea and green tea together (one bag of ginger tea and three bags of green tea brewed in one quart of water). The warming ginger counters the cooling quality of green tea and offers a boost to the digestion.
Traditionally, oranges were one of the treasures of winter. The bright flavors of orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime can be a wonderful counterpoint to rich cold-season dishes. Though citrus fruits are known for their high vitamin C content, it’s not just the vitamin C that makes them such a great choice this time of year.
Citrus fruits also provide a bounty of other nutrients. Flavonoids – plant compounds that neutralize free radicals, improve blood flow, and inhibit the growth of cancer cells – are abundant in citrus. Citrus is rich in pectin, a soluble fiber that lowers LDL cholesterol and improves heart health. And it’s not just the fruit itself that has health benefits. The peel and the pith (the white part just under the skin) are high in hesperidin, which has been shown to help keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check.
Incorporating citrus into your diet is easy. My favorite way to do this is to squeeze a little fresh lemon juice on sautéed kale or chard. I also like to toss thinly sliced lemon with broccoli, cauliflower, olive oil and salt, then roast them together for a tangy side dish. Fresh orange or grapefruit segments brighten up a salad, and of course, a fresh orange by itself is a pleasure any time of year.
Dark Leafy Greens
Kale, Swiss chard and collard greens are available during the cooler months of the year in most parts of the country. These “dark leafies” are a go-to vegetable this time of year when other vegetables are not as abundant. Versatile, hearty, and nutrient-dense, greens offer respectable amounts of fiber, bone-building calcium, magnesium and vitamin K, and skin-nourishing vitamins A and C.
Kale and collards are cruciferous vegetables, known for their glucosinolates, compounds that are important in cancer prevention and detoxification. Cruciferous vegetables also have the ability to bind cholesterol, an effect that’s enhanced by cooking.
Chard, a member of the same family as beets and spinach, contains betalain pigments not found in other families of foods. These pigments are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and support the body’s detoxification processes. Chard also contains a compound called syringic acid which has proven in animal studies to have blood sugar lowering properties.
Yes, greens are nourishing, but more importantly they’re delicious. Chard makes a wonderful side dish sautéed with garlic (remember to add the squeeze of lemon juice!), or can be a component of a main dish like this frittata. Sturdier kale and collard greens are well-suited to hearty soups and stews.
If these foods are not already a part of your diet, give them a try. See if they don’t make a difference in how you feel and function throughout the cold, dark days of winter.
Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.