1.Focus on high quality carbs – we spend more time indoors this time of year, which often leads to more snacking, and most processed snack foods are made from refined flour which has very little fiber and nutritional value. These snacks rarely satisfy hunger so we end up eating more, ratcheting up our total caloric intake and adding another inch to our waistline.
But carbs are important for maintaining a high energy level so what to do? Focus on whole grains, veggies, and fresh fruit. Make sure the label lists “whole wheat” instead of just “wheat flour”. Whole grain foods are higher in B vitamins and iron than those made with white flour. And contrary to what many people think, whole grain breads and pasta are not likely to cause weight gain; several studies have shown that people who eat lots of whole grains are almost always thinner than their grain-avoiding counterparts. Other high-quality carbs include sweet potatoes, squash, quinoa, beans and legumes, and oatmeal.
2.Pay attention to vitamin D intake – Vitamin D burst onto the nutrition scene a few years ago when a Cornell study found that most Americans were deficient in vitamin D. A barrage of other studies soon ensued showing that low vitamin D levels are associated with everything from poor muscle function to colon cancer.
Why is it especially important in the winter to get adequate amounts of vitamin D from our diet? Because D is the only vitamin that our bodies can make with the help of direct sunlight and most of us don’t get enough sunlight in the winter, especially those of us living northern latitudes. Above 35 º latitude, the angle of the sun is so oblique during the winter months that it’s nearly impossible to make enough vitamin D from sunlight. One recent study found that 32% of healthy adults aged 18 -29 were deficient in vitamin D at the end of a winter spent in Boston.
Vitamin D levels are important for calcium absorption too. Without vitamin D, the small intestine absorbs no more than 10 – 15% of dietary calcium intake. Thus, if you take calcium supplements, make sure they contain vitamin D as well. Milk and yogurt are excellent sources of both nutrients but during the winter months it may be difficult to meet your calcium and vitamin D needs with food alone.
3.Get familiar with seasonal produce – we all know that winter is the cold and flu season and while you can’t cure the common cold with nutrition, you can lessen the severity of cold symptoms with adequate amounts of vitamin C and other nutrients found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Try experimenting with produce that’s in season this time of year: pomegranates, oranges, cranberries, and purple grapes, all of which are packed with nutrition. Frozen fruit is even higher in nutritional content because it is picked and frozen right away, preserving almost all of the vitamin content. Canned fruit, while lower in nutritional content, is better than no fruit and is often less expensive than fresh or frozen.
Cindy Dallow, t2coach, Ph.D, RD.