How to tweak your meals and menus to keep your nutrition up as the mercury dips.
Temperatures are dropping here in the Northern Hemisphere! As you get those sweaters and turtlenecks out of storage, it’s also time to make a few adjustments to your nutrition and eating habits. Here are some tips for staying well-nourished and fit through the winter.
Head Off Carb Cravings
Declining daylight can lead to a dip in serotonin levels.
Declining daylight can lead to a dip in serotonin levels, which can trigger carb cravings. Eating starchy foods like bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, cereal, crackers, and other carb-rich foods can cause a boost in serotonin production, but the effect is short-lived. That is, the effect on serotonin levels and mood is short-lived; the extra calories you’re consuming may translate into a few extra pounds that you carry around until April, especially because we tend to get less exercise in the winter.
As Dr. Ellen Hendrickson and I talked about in our two-part series on food and mood, there are better ways to boost serotonin and lift your spirits, such as jumping on a treadmill or exercise bike, reading a book or watching a movie that makes you laugh, or even doing something nice for a stranger.
Turn the Thermostat Down
Another way to help stave off winter weight gain is to keep your house and office on the cool side. We’re not talking about see-your-breath cold. (Very cold temperatures can impair cognitive performance.) Aim for 65 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s 18 to 19 degrees Celsius.
Not only will you save a few bucks on your energy bill, you’ll also burn a few extra calories just maintaining your body heat. Even better, a cooler environment might inspire you to move around more.
If you’re feeling chilly around the edges, get up and do 25 jumping jacks or walk up and down a flight of stairs ten times. It’ll warm you right up, burn some calories, improve your fitness, and help to counter the effects of sitting all day.
Keep Your Iron Up
If you’re someone who has a hard time staying warm in winter, low iron levels could be part of the problem. Chronic iron deficiency can impair your ability to maintain adequate body temperature. Women (especially those who have with heavy periods) have a higher risk of iron deficiency. Because iron is not as well absorbed from vegetable sources as it is from meat, vegetarians also need to take care to consume enough iron-containing foods.
Low thyroid function is another common cause of low body temperature. If you’re always cold, even when everyone around you is comfortable, it’s worth checking with your doctor, who can check both your iron and your thyroid levels.