Winter warmers – foods to support your mood and weight

Diet tips to support how you look and feel during winter

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
Ask Emma

01 November 2017

How to eat

It’s not just what you eat, but also how you eat which can influence how you look and feel. With the lack of light and the chilly weather, winter can leave many of us feeling a little down in the dumps. The weather can have quite pronounced effects on us and as the amount of daily light fades, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) can become apparent. Everyday troubles such as a stressful job, a difficult relationship, financial burdens, too many responsibilities, bereavement or health problems may suddenly become too much, and we can be left feeling quite overwhelmed. So, to help support your mood, some of my top tips include the following:

  • Eat slowly and deliberately. Too many of us wolf our meals down as we sit at our desks or rush off to our next appointment but this may be more damaging than we release. Firstly, if you eat too quickly your digestive system can struggle to keep up. This can not only give rise to uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating, or flatulence, but actually, it also means we  will be less able to make use of all the important nutrients from our food – the sole purpose of eating in the first place! Also, if you eat quicker you are more likely to eat more (your waistline won’t thank you for that) plus, let’s be honest – it isn’t enjoyable! Take some time to enjoy the flavours and textures of your food and you’ll feel the difference in more ways than one.
  • Save drinks for later. Guzzling down juice or water with your meals isn’t recommended. You will only risk diluting your digestive juices and affect their efficacy. Drink lots of plain, still water between meals instead, to help keep you hydrated and keep those hunger pangs at bay 
  • Listen to your body. We often eat aimlessly without really thinking about what we are putting in our bodies and what effects it might be having. I find that keeping a food and symptoms diary can be really useful – it can be a real wake-up call too! It will let you see firsthand exactly what you eat each day, and as an added bonus you may be able to identify some food triggers. Certain items may contribute to bloating, for example, in which case, you can begin to try out some handy food swaps!
  • Get out of bad habits. We’ve mentioned eating too quickly and not giving much thought to what we are actually eating, but eating late at night is another habit to avoid. If your digestive system is preoccupied digesting your latest meal as you head off to bed it can easily disrupt your sleep 

Which nutrients are important?

A whole array of nutrients are important for a number of different functions, but here I want to focus on a few that should be a top priority during those winter months. Again, your mood and weight  are top of mind here.

  • Vitamin C – As well as being a firm favourite for helping to support the immune system, vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant in the body. Antioxidants are a fabulous all-rounder, helping to protect everything from our skin, to our heart. Antioxidants are also a key ingredient for a successful, sustainable weight management regime

What foods should I be choosing?

So now that I’ve outlined some favourite vitamins and minerals to help you through, I want to tell you where you can get them when it comes to your diet. Some of my winter essentials to add to your shopping list include the following:

  • Oily fish – One of the rare food sources of vitamin D, oily fish is also rich in B vitamins and in particular, vitamin B12 which isn’t so readily available in plant sources! Together with the omega-3 which oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout or herring provide, oily fish is great for supporting our mood and brain functions
  • Wholegrains – Wholegrains such as brown rice, barley, bulgur wheat or oats are a great source of B’s vitamins, magnesium and dietary fibre. B vitamins, magnesium help support your mood, whilst dietary fibre helps to keep your bowel moving and can even help to keep us feeling fuller for longer. This in turn can help support your weight
  • Colourful fruit and veg – Eating the colours of the rainbow means you are getting a wider variety of antioxidants. Vitamin C in found in a few firm favourites including oranges, red peppers, strawberries and kale so stock up on these!
  • Dark chocolate – Ok, so I won’t pretend that it’s quite feasible to last all winter without some chocolate – especially over the festive period. But my top tip is to opt for dark chocolate instead. Cocoa beans, and even better their raw form, cacao, are excellent sources of magnesium, so the higher percentage cocoa the better! Plus, with the more bitter taste, the more likely you are to feel satisfied after only a square or two rather than a whole bar!

Now, although food sources are the preferred way to get your winter fix of vitamins and minerals, sometimes a supplement can come in handy. Particularly vitamin D as we don’t have the sun to give us our fix, and magnesium which we can become deficient in so easily. Aim for 10ug and 200-400mg daily respectively, doses any larger than this generally won’t be necessary.

Any habits or foods worth avoiding?

So, by now you know how and what to eat, but what habits should you be avoiding?

  • Don’t be tempted by stodge – When we think winter, many of us think warming pies and steaming puddings, but these can include unhealthy amounts of saturated fats and sugar so are best avoided. Gathering some extra weight can, in turn, get us down emotionally so it can be a vicious cycle. Certainly eat warm, cooked foods to give you some comfort but just consider the types of foods you’re opting for
  • Don’t opt for convenience – As you drive back from work in the dark it can be tempting to rush home, have a quick bite to eat and have an early night, but don’t be tempted by convenient ready meals. Cooking can be therapeutic and help lift your spirits, plus its better value for money too; tightening the purse strings can help prevent against money worries and any added stress!
  • Don’t overeat – As we get comfy in our cosies it can be easier to worry less about our weight and the temptation to overeat isn’t such a threat. However, don’t forget that feelings of guilt can creep in and if our confidence becomes affected so can our mood. So keep strong and don’t let those good habits slip – you’ll thank yourself come spring time!

Finally, some recipe inspiration...

Healthy chips and dip

Click here for healthy chips and dip recipe

Spicy nut roast

Click here for full Spicy nut roast recipe

Healthy Nutella mousse

Click for full Healthy Nutella mousse recipe here

Or why not try making a warming Bombay Potato Soup - enjoy!


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