The winter months can prove a nutritional challenge for some of us; yet the wisdom of “Let food be thy medicine” (which dates dates back almost 3000 years) and is no less important now than it was then.
Huddling in front of the fire and television on a wet, windy night is the perfect opportunity for planning healthy nutritious meals that not only satisfy but provide nutritional benefits. With some planning, food has the ability to help support us through these times when common winter illnesses such as colds and flus, sniffles, coughs, chapped skin and the winter blues abound for too many.
Because people spend more time indoors and may eat a smaller variety of foods, nutritional deficits – especially Vitamin D deficiency – can be a problem. Vitamin D is an important nutrient for bone health, immunity, cancer prevention and mood regulation. Its role in bone health is to support the uptake of calcium and phosphate, which are bone-strengthening minerals. Over the winter months we often find ourselves wrapped up warm with less exposure to the sun, except for our hands and faces. As the sun’s action on the cholesterol in our skin is our major source of vitamin D it is important to spend a little time each day exposed to the sun and to increase our food sources of vitamin D.
Hot drinks can really ward of the chill and also work to warm cold hands. Eating higher calorie comfort foods such as stews and casseroles, during winter time also helps your loved ones maintain a good nutritional balance and builds up their natural reserves.
Here are our top eight tips for winter:
- Eat Plenty of Fruit & Vegetables. Top up your immune system by eating antioxidant-containing fruit and vegetables. Choose fruits and vegetables that are in season such as mandarin, apples, grapefruit, broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrots, cauliflower and potatoes. Make the most of frozen and canned fruits, which are readily available, and cheaper, at this time of year. Get your 5+a day by making at least one fruit or vegetable a part of every meal and snack.
- Make a Casserole. With a casserole you are able to use economical cuts of meat (blade steak, chuck steak, chops) with slow cooking methods. Red meat is high in zinc and iron, two minerals which boost the immune system. Legumes (chickpeas, kidney beans, soy beans) are an excellent protein source, low fat, high fibre, low GI and economical. A casserole with meat, vegetables and a can of beans is a great way to boost your ability to fight disease, as well as being real comfort food.
- Enjoy Soup. Soup doesn’t have to be complicated as there are many good soup mixes available to use as a base. With lots of vegetables, some beans or lentils and maybe some meat, soup is the perfect food to build your immune system. If you do succumb to winter bugs there may be some truth to the reputation of chicken soup’s restorative powers.
- Watch your portion sizes. It is very tempting to snack on foods, eat a large plate of food and seconds, when you are indoors all evening. To avoid eating too much try to eat your meals at the table with the family, turn off the TV, use smaller plates, and reserve half your dinner plate for vegetables.
- Drink Plenty. Even though the temperature outside is chilly, you still need to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid each day. This includes tea, coffee and water.
- Include Garlic. Garlic is a great disease fighter as well as adding flavour to meals and food. Garlic will give the most benefit to your immune system when chopped and then left to stand for 10-15 minutes before adding to the pan. If garlic is cooked straight after it’s chopped you are not getting the full health benefit.
- Choose foods containing Vitamin D. Sometimes called the sunshine vitamin, it has been shown to help support the immune system. In winter when the weather is often bad and the angle of the sun low it is possible many New Zealanders are not getting enough vitamin D from exposure to the sun. In this case food becomes the most important source of vitamin D. Oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines are good sources of vitamin D and there are also vitamin D fortified milks and yoghurt available.
- Keep moving. Find an indoor sport or exercise class, rug up and brave the elements for a walk and arrange to meet a friend so that you have to turn up. Try increasing the amount of incidental exercise you do by taking the stairs instead of the lift or walk and talk with a friend instead of catching up in a cafe, for example.
Take a look at meal providers here on Making Life Easier.