The weather’s changing, and so are your nutritional needs. Here’s how to make sure you’re fuelling yourself right for the season, writes Anna Bartter.
With the clocks changing and the temperatures starting to dip, it’s time to curl up with a bowl of something warm and nourishing after work. As much as I love a salad, once November arrives, even the tastiest slaw doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. And with good reason, as our nutritional needs really do change as the mercury drops.
We asked the experts for their top winter nutrition hacks for keeping energy high, bugs at bay and concentration levels stable.
How do our nutritional needs change in winter?
“As seasons change, so too do the needs of our bodies,” explains nutritionist Sam Gold. “Your immune, circulatory and digestive systems all need extra support at this time of year, and there are some essential nutrients you need to achieve optimal health in the winter months.”
Clinical nutritionist Hannah Hope tells Stylist: “Our requirements for vitamins and minerals increase during winter, as well our calorific intake.”
You’re not just imagining feeling more hungry than usual when it’s cold – your body needs extra fuel to keep itself warm. As Hope explains: “Eating produces heat. If our surrounding environment is colder, the body needs to compensate for this by using more energy to warm itself up – and food provides this essential energy.”
What we’re saying is that extra slice of toast is the dietary equivalent of your mum telling you to wear a vest.
Added to this, Gold explains that seasonal changes to our daily routine also affect what our bodies need. “In winter, there are more bugs around and people are less inclined to be active and out and about in the fresh air, making us more susceptible to stress and illness. So, we need to take extra steps to protect ourselves, like upping our intake of immune-boosting nutrients.”
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What should we be including in our daily diets?
As well as increasing how much we eat, we need to look carefully at what we’re eating in the winter months to maximise our diet’s health-giving potential. Here’s the expert’s guide to what to reach for when hunger strikes.
According to the NHS, during autumn and winter we should all be taking a vitamin D supplement to counteract the fact that there’s little to no sunshine in the UK at this time of year – and what little there is, isn’t strong enough for us to convert into Vitamin D via our skin.
“Vitamin D is vitally important, not just for our bones and teeth, but also for supporting immune health and regulating mood,” says Hope. “In addition to a supplement, you can boost your levels by incorporating oily fish, eggs, dairy and poultry into your diet.”
If you’re vegan, fortified dairy alternatives are just as good, while vegans and meat-eaters alike would do well to up their mushroom intake, as those little guys are a powerhouse of vitamin D.
“Vitamin C is widely known to support the immune system…when you have a cold or flu,” says Gold. “It’s crucial for protein metabolism, which helps us make antibodies, and is a potent antioxidant, helping our bodies mop up free radicals that can damage cells and cause inflammation, making us stronger and more resilient overall.”
Luckily, it’s quite straightforward to incorporate foods rich in vitamin C into our diets, as it’s commonly found in foods including broccoli, citrus fruits, dark leafy vegetables and berries. However, Gold advises: “It’s important to note that our bodies can’t synthesise vitamin C, so it needs to be consumed via diet or supplementation.”
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“Zinc isn’t naturally produced in the body, but it’s present in every cell in your body,” says Hope. Zinc helps to support our immune system, and is “crucial for the normal development and function of cells such as neutrophils, which fight viruses”. So having a good dietary source is important for overall health, and you can achieve this by including foods such as meat, fish, beans, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.
At this time of year, we’re all feeling a little lethargic and low on energy. As such, it’s more important than ever to make sure our iron intake is sufficient, as deficiency can lead to fatigue. While iron requirements vary from person to person, it’s crucial to keep our levels up by eating iron-rich foods such as meat, poultry, fish, or plant-based sources like beans, lentils, dates and spinach.
Here’s where your beauty regime will thank you, Gold explains: “In the winter months, skin can get dry, itchy and flaky. Eating omega 3-rich foods can help to soothe any issues, as it regulates oil production and balances hydration in the skin.”
In addition, a good intake of omega 3 helps to fight inflammation and lower blood pressure, so it’s a great idea to chuck some chia seeds in your overnight oats.
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How can we switch up our nutrition to include these nutrients?
It can be tempting when the nights are dark and cold to grab convenience food on your way home from the office, but this isn’t the way to go.
Go for protein
“When winter comes, we often want to hibernate and reach for comfort food,” says Gold. “That’s why it’s important to eat enough protein at every meal. Protein helps us to feel fuller for longer and helps balance our blood sugar to reduce cravings. Remember it’s not just about meat: lentils, beans, nuts and seeds are all excellent sources of protein.”
Eat the season
There’s good reason we’re told to ’eat the season’, as it’s often the foods in season that provide what our bodies are craving. And it doesn’t have to be complicated to create some easy meals that will power up your winter – something as simple as adding a handful of seeds and berries to your morning porridge would work.
Gold also recommends batch cooking. “Make up some soups, stews and chilli and freeze them for ease. You could even dust off your slow cooker, if you have one, and come home to a ready cooked meal.”
As with so many other things, preparation is key here. Gold advises: “Get your overnight oats prepared while you’re cooking dinner, so the next morning will be easier. Planning meals will keep you on track, make shopping easier while helping to reduce food waste.”
Think about the future
And if you’re still not convinced, think about your future self. “By taking control of your nutrition now you’ll be building a stronger and more resilient body for the future,” says Gold. “And let’s face it, you won’t get to January and need to start yet another resolution to eat better as you’ll already be in a great position health wise.”
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