Winter often sees us reaching for comfort food in response to the cold and the dark days - it can be so miserable in winter. But why do we do that?
Well, the desire to eat hearty, calorie-rich foods stems from a combination of biological and psychological factors. Cold weather prompts the body to seek warmth through increased calorie intake, and certain comfort foods can induce a sense of coziness and satisfaction - we all know that the temptation to indulge in comforting (but not so nutritious) foods can be strong! Emotional associations with nostalgic winter comfort foods can give us temporary relief from seasonal negativity and create warmth and familiarity. Maybe a particular food we grew up with, which we associate with past times or particular people. Or something we routinely feed ourselves which does the trick but it might not be the most helpful food for us to beat the impact of winter.
Of course, if this goes on all winter we can end up with weight gain and cravings for unhelpful foods which are hard to change.
Physiologically, food creates heat - all foods do this during digestion (it's called thermogenesis), but some foods take longer to digest than others. Complex carbs, proteins and 'good' fats take longer and therefore heat the body better, and for longer. This also means that they burn more calories during digestion. So, although we might want to eat simple carbs (like chips, bread, cakes and biscuits) as our 'comfort' food, if we're looking to beat the cold we should be eating more nutritious choices, like whole oats, pulses or nuts for example. These foods will help stabilise blood sugar levels and give us energy throughout the day and help us manage our emotions without reaching for unhelpful food choices.
The other big factor during winter is the lack of light. We are receiving less natural sunlight - there is simply less of it and most of us are less inclined to be outside if it's cold. Reduced exposure to natural sunlight during winter months can lead to lower serotonin levels, influencing mood and cravings. Adequate levels of vitamin D may contribute to mood regulation so making the most of sun and also considering a supplement is a good idea.
Listen to my podcast with Neina Sheldon, an expert in Seasonal Affective Disorder HERE.
And so, we shouldn't write off winter as as 3-month carb fest just because we need comfort or extra warming. To stay as well (and to manage our weight consistently through winter) we need a thoughtful approach to nutrition. Combatting the seasonal impact starts with a diet rich in immune-boosting nutrients:-
A variety of fruits and vegetables, even in the colder months, ensures a robust intake of vitamins and antioxidants:
- citrus fruits
- dark leafy greens
- colourful vegetables
contribute essential nutrients that support the body's immune system.
Keeping up your omega-3 fatty acids:
- fatty fish
can have mood-stabilising effects, helping you alleviate the winter blues.
You can download for free my guidance on warm winter salads HERE
Staying hydrated is crucial, as the dry winter air can contribute to dehydration. Herbal teas and warm soups not only hydrate but can also provide some of that warm comfort we're craving.
By working harder to have as nutrient-dense diet possible, specifically with the winter in mind, you can feel like spring just a little bit early!