By Cassandra Roe BHsc, Adv. Dip. Nat.
What is it about winter that make us want to curl up on the couch and indulge in some good old fashioned comfort food? The answer might be more deeply ingrained in us than we think. Our bodies have evolved to respond to the cold weather by trying to store extra calories as a preparation for the challenges of winter. To our ancestors winter was a time of exposure to harsh weather, infection and food scarcity. However, nowadays we spend our evenings in our toasty warm houses with our pantry nicely stocked, and this primitive instinct has become more of a pest than a saviour. Is there a way to satisfy your desire for cold season comfort food in a healthy way? Yes, and it all comes down to the type of food you choose to reach for this winter.
Exploring Your Winter Food Options
Winter is traditionally a time for roasts, casseroles and pies. These foods are hearty and satisfying, but can also be high in kilojoules. But winter is also the time for soups, which can be a healthier alternative. Why not pick one night of the week to cook a different tasty soup?
Many root vegetables come into season during winter, so experiment with parsnip, swede, sweet potato, celeriac and beetroot. Make a warm vegetable salad, or a wholesome vegetable stew on baked polenta. Instead of mashing potato, substitute pumpkin for variety and nutrients. Another group of vegetables that come into their own in winter is the onion family. Garlic, onion, leeks, shallots and chives not only bring a great flavour to dishes, but help protect against infection over the cold season. Try homemade onion soup, potato and leek fritters, or a raw garlic dip (chopped garlic, low fat yogurt and chives) if you are feeling brave! Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussel sprouts are also abundant over winter. Quiche or frittata make good alternatives to pies, and can incorporate a variety of seasonal vegetables easily.
Foods For Improving Circulation
When temperatures drop our blood vessels constrict, leaving extremities like hands and feet colder. This decrease in blood flow also means a decrease in oxygen and nutrients being delivered to these areas, including the brain. Some foods dilate blood vessels, help blood flow more easily or both. Spices like chilli, black pepper and cinnamon are examples. Many Asian dishes, like stir fries, incorporate circulatory foods such as garlic and ginger. Indian foods, like a nice lentil dhal with plenty of turmeric, can also have this effect. This makes winter the perfect time to get out your mortar and pestle and blend some exotic spice mixes. Or at the very least, add some freshly cracked black pepper to your meal! To incorporate cinnamon into you diet, sprinkle half a teaspoon onto porridge or muesli in the morning.
Vitamin E is an essential nutrient for healthy circulation, and can be found in raw nuts, especially almond and walnut. Sunflower seeds are among the richest vitamin E food sources. Cold pressed oils from these nuts and seeds, along with wheat germ oil, can used raw for a vitamin E boost.
Tea For Improving Circulation
There is nothing better than a nice cup of hot tea when it’s cold outside. Compounds in black and green tea work to dilate blood vessels allowing for better circulation. Chai tea combines green or black tea with aromatic spices, many of which add to this circulatory effects. Cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, star anise and black pepper are all common chai ingredients. For something straight from the kitchen, add some freshly sliced ginger or a rosemary sprig to some boiled water for a similar effect. Gingko leaf can also be used in a tea form. Another tip for improving circulation in winter is to keep as active as possible. Contracting muscles assist the movement of blood around the body. So don’t give up your morning walk, just wear a couple of extra layers - and your circulation and metabolism will both benefit.
Tips For Healthy Winter Eating
• Reduce your portion size during winter
• Resist stocking the pantry with the wrong foods
• Choose soups, warm salads and frittatas
• Spice things up a bit, with stir fries and curries
• Enjoy winter vegetables while they at their best
• Drink black, green or herbal teas such as ginger
• Get vitamin E from nuts, seeds, and cold pressed oils
• Keep moving over winter