What are the best foods to eat during winter?

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
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01 October 2019

What should I eat to stay healthy in winter?

Colds, flus and vitamin D deficiencies – winter can be a tricky time of year for our health and, often, it can feel like we're constantly up against a barrage of viral infections and bugs. That's why it's more important than ever to make sure that our diet is giving us plenty of lovely nutrients to help support our immune system. I discuss this in a little bit of detail in my blog, 'Winter warmers – foods to support your mood and weight'. Here, though, I've compiled a list of my top recommendations to keep you satiated during the winter months:

I'm going to a closer look at these foods, discussing how they can help to support your health, what you can do to include more of them in your diet and what alternatives are available.

1. Oats

Here at A.Vogel Talks Food, I'm always espousing the benefits of oats, and I promise this is for a good reason.

Oats, in addition to being chockfull of dietary fibre, also contain plenty of energy-boosting B vitamins and magnesium. They can help to balance your blood glucose levels, support your friendly bacteria in your gut and even help manage your cholesterol levels! Oats can also keep you feeling fuller for longer, curbing any junk food cravings, plus they contain tryptophan, an amino acid that your body can convert into serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter.

So, as you can see, oats really are a superfood that you could benefit from during the colder winter months. It also helps that oats are pretty versatile too – you can incorporate oats into biscuits, snack bars or even smoothies!

My personal recommendation, though, would be to try making porridge. Porridge is a great, warming breakfast option that should help to keep you energy levels up on dreary, cold winter mornings. You can also add some flavour to your porridge with a variety of toppings, from fresh berries to super-powered seeds or spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.

My top recipe – Spiced Porridge Oats Two Ways

2. Kale

Dark leafy greens are always going to be a highly recommended food group to include in your diet but, particularly during the winter months, kale is at its best. It's incredibly rich in vitamin C, an immune-boosting nutrient that also acts as an antioxidant, warding off free-radical damage whilst maintaining collagen, a structural protein that's pivotal for your muscles, joints and skin.

In addition to vitamin C, kale also contains a decent amount of beta-carotene, another potent antioxidant, alongside vitamin K. This particular vitamin isn't as well-known as other nutrients, which is a shame as vitamin K is extremely important when it comes to blood clotting and maintaining strong, healthy bones.

Now, kale might not be to everyone's tastes, but it's easy to disguise in dishes such as soups, smoothies or salads. During the winter months, I would make warming dishes like soup a top priority as you can combine the nutritional goodness of kale with other vegetables like sweet potatoes, parsnips or carrots.

This recipe for Sweet Potato & Kale Soup is one of my personal favourites.

3. Sweet potatoes

Potatoes are definitely top of mind during the winter season – we love to mash them, roast them or boil them and serve alongside a traditionally cooked dinner. However, while there's nothing inherently wrong with potatoes, it is nice to switch things up once in a while and sweet potatoes are definitely a healthy alternative.

They are high in fibre to help discourage digestive issues like constipation, plus they contain plenty of nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin C, potassium and vitamin E. This makes sweet potatoes a good choice for supporting your immune system, eyes, and gut health. Once again, if you want to include more sweet potatoes in your diet, soup is an excellent option!

You could try this recipe for a Spicy Sweet Potato Soup if you fancy something that's going to help fight the winter chill.

4. Oily fish

Oily fish such as sardines and tuna have long been prized for their high content of anti-inflammatory, omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 has garnered a promising reputation when it comes to supporting your cognitive function, but studies have also found that fatty fish like salmon could potentially lower your blood pressure too due to their levels of potassium.1

Another added perk of fatty fish is that they are counted as a good dietary source of vitamin D. This nutrient isn't readily available in our food and, usually, we must rely on our exposure to the sun to synthesise the vitamin. This can present an obvious problem during the darker winter months and, often, we can risk starting to exhibit low vitamin D symptoms such as weak immunity, fatigue and low mood.

You could try an oily fish recipe such as our Grilled Honey Lemon Sardines with Herbed Rice, but what if you're vegan or vegetarian? You could try including more omega-3 rich plant-based foods in your diet, such as flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts, or, alternatively, turn to a supplement such as Biocare's Phytomega-3. But what about vitamin D?

Unfortunately, most foods sources of vitamin D are rooted in animal-based food products. That's why, sometimes, a gentle supplement such as our Balance Mineral Drink might be required, just to keep your vitamin D levels nice and steady during winter.


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5. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a sweet, delicious spice that's often widely used during the winter season to add flavour to hot drinks and pastries. The good news is that this spice, in addition to being extremely tasty, is also brimming with health benefits. Cinnamon contains a plethora of antioxidants and has natural anti-inflammatory properties but, what makes it so useful, is that it's often linked to lowering our blood glucose levels.

This effect may occur for two reasons: firstly, studies have found that cinnamon can increase our sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that helps to regulate our blood glucose levels.2 Secondly, it's also been discovered that cinnamon may help reduce the amount of sugar entering our bloodstream after a meal by slowing down the breakdown of carbohydrates in our digestive system.3

If you want to try and include more cinnamon in your diet, then it's important to remember that quality matters – Ceylon cinnamon is always preferred over the more common 'cassia' cinnamon so do keep an eye out and remember to read any labels thoroughly.

You can easily add cinnamon to baked dishes, sprinkle over cereal or add to smoothies but, for a healthy, cinnamon-packed snack, you could try these Cinnamon Sugar Chickpea Cookies.

6. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a type of fungi that have been consumed for centuries and are associated with a myriad of health benefits. They contain a vast range of nutrients, such as antioxidant selenium and energy-promoting B vitamins but, in addition to these benefits, mushrooms also act as a plant-based source of vitamin D.

This can make them a sensible option for vegans and vegetarians during the winter months, but, mushrooms shouldn't just be prized for their vitamin D content. A study conducted by the University of Florida's Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition found that a daily serving of shiitake mushrooms noticeably improved immunity.4 This could be extremely beneficial during winter, when our immune system often comes under pressure from viral infections and other pathogens.

Mushrooms are also very versatile and can be incorporated into your diet in a number of ways: you can mix them into sauces, stir fry them or even add them to soups.

One of my all-time favourite recipes that utilises mushrooms is definitely this Mushroom Noodle Soup, a hearty winter dish that's big on flavour and immune-boosting nutrients!

7. Beetroot

Beetroots, unfortunately, often get overlooked in favour of other roots vegetables such as parsnips and turnips, particularly during the winter season. It would be a mistake to underestimate this brightly coloured vegetable, though – as I explain in my blog, 'Beetroot juice, heart health and periods – what's the link?', beetroot juice is an excellent source of potassium and nitrates.

Together, these two nutrients can help to regulate your blood pressure and increase your oxygen availability, possibly giving your sporting performance a boost! Beetroot also contains plenty of iron, an important nutrient when it comes to fighting fatigue and ensuring the health of your red blood cells. This is especially important for menstruating women as they are more vulnerable to iron deficiencies due the blood that is lost each month.

Beetroot is perhaps best known for being included in soups, but some people have added it to smoothies, used it to create dips or even utilised it in baked goods to provide a rich, sweet flavour. While these are all excellent options, if you want to avoid any unnecessary hassle, you could try a quick 100ml serving of Biotta's Beetroot Juice. Fancy a sweeter flavour? Don't worry! Biotta also have a Beetroot, Apple and Ginger Juice too!

8. Garlic

A pungent smelling herb, garlic is found in an extremely wide variety of dishes and is famous for warding off colds and flu. Is this reputation earned, though? Well, garlic is naturally antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral and, furthermore, studies have found that garlic supplements are capable of reducing the length of cold symptoms by up to 70% - impressive!5

These days, however, most of the research surrounding garlic seems to be honing in on the herb's ability to support heart health. Smaller studies do suggest that garlic may have some anticoagulant properties, thus reducing the risk of heart disease.6 It's also theorised that garlic may help to lower your blood pressure too!

It's really easy to add garlic to soups and sauces – take this Tomato, Garlic and Black Olive Pasta Sauce, for example, or this Tomato, Garlic and Chickpea Soup.

9. Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkins are all the rage around October but, all too often, we waste the pumpkin flesh itself and the seeds. This is a real shame as pumpkin seeds are extremely dense in zinc. If you think of immune-boosting nutrients, the chances are vitamin C and vitamin D are at the top of the list, but zinc definitely shouldn't be underestimated.

Zinc helps to make new cells and is found throughout the body in the brain, lungs, kidneys and eyes. It works to regulate your immune response and plays an important role when it comes to wound healing, helping to maintain the structure and integrity of your skin.

So, as you can see, zinc is vital and pumpkin seeds have this mineral in abundance, alongside magnesium and vitamin E. Now, if snacking on plain pumpkin seeds doesn't appeal to you, don't worry. You could try toasting these seeds with soy sauce for extra flavour, or sprinkling them on top of soups and salads.

They also work really well in homemade breakfast bars such as this Pumpkin Spice Breakfast Bar.

10. Berries

Darkly coloured berries such as blueberries, blackberries, cherries and acai berries all have one thing in common – they're all extremely rich in vitamin C and a range of other powerful antioxidants. These can help to protect your cells against oxidative stress and bolster your immune system, potentially protecting you from seasonal viruses like the common cold.

Berries are also naturally rich in fibre and have anti-inflammatory properties to help ward off chronic inflammation. Eating certain berries has also been associated with preventing cardiovascular disease. One observational study, looking at over 93,000 nurses, found that those who had higher intakes of anthocyanins had a 32% lower risk of heart attacks.7

This is an extremely positive sign, but more research needs to be carried out in order to verify this claim. In the meantime, though, upping your intake of berries can only be a good thing. 

Eat berries whole as part of a snack or you could also try blitzing up a smoothie such as this Raspberry & Blueberry Smoothie with Coconut Milk.

 

1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21403995

2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2901047/

3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21538147

4https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25866155

5https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11697022

6http://jn.nutrition.org/search?fulltext=garlic&submit=yes&x=0&y=0

7https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23319811

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