Cold Weather Nutrition Tips

How to tweak your meals and menus to keep your nutrition up as the mercury dips.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
3-minute read
Episode #357

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.

RELATED: Ask the Diva: How Does Weather Affect Calorie Needs?

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.

RELATED: What Are Good Vegetarian Sources of Iron?

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.

Don’t forget to drink liquids

In warm weather, I almost always have a refreshing glass of ice water or iced tea at hand. When the weather cools down, I seem to get out of the habit and end up taking in a lot fewer fluids. Sipping on water, tea, or other liquids helps to suppress the urge to snack between meals. It also ensures that you’re getting up every couple of hours to use the restroom! Switching from iced beverages to hot tea or broth can help you keep up your fluid intake in the cooler weather.

RELATED: How Much Water Should I Drink?

Warm up your menu

Although I eat salads virtually every day in the summer, crisp raw veggies don’t seem quite as compelling in the winter. For one thing, the greens are not as fresh because they are no longer local. Cooler temperatures also seem to call for heartier fare.

Instead of replacing your daily salad with a baked potato or fries, turn instead to warming vegetable-based soups.

But instead of replacing your daily salad with a baked potato or fries, turn instead to warming vegetable-based soups. It takes about the same amount of time to chop vegetables for a pot of soup as it does to chop them for a salad. Try this Carrot Avocado soup, this Silken Asparagus Soup, or this Kale Soup with Rice and Lemon.

By the same token, the frosty smoothies that I have for breakfast all summer long just aren’t as appealing when the mercury dips. But who says a smoothie has to be cold? Blend a banana with warm almond or soy milk, spices, and rolled oats or flaxseed for a cozy breakfast smoothie. Here are some other warm smoothie recipes you'll enjoy.

What are your favorite healthy cold weather recipes and menu hacks? Share them on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page.

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.