Now that it’s brisk outside, you may be inclined to load up on carbohydrates – and calories. Avoid falling into this common trap by following these expert tips and activities to keep you warm – without unwinding your health in the process!
During winter, you just want to get a little warmer, right? And more often than not this comfort comes from the kitchen. So why do we crave ‘comfort food’ during colder months? I asked Reece Carter, Naturopath and Herbalist to explain.
Reece tells me that the reasons can be varied, including our bodies need and want to heat up, which rich, warming foods provide. “The second reason is that many people experience a seasonal decline in mood and try to counter it with a carbohydrate quick fix,” he explains. “And starches and sugars increase levels and activity of serotonin in the body, which provides temporary relief from the winter blues.”
This result of 'comfort' from certain stodgier foods then sees many of us typically associate the season with winter with rich foods. This means we often reach for meals “full of potatoes and refined grains, but lacking fresh vegetables,” he says. Although these foods tend to deliver more energy than say, the salads and smoothies we lean towards in summer, we tend to be less active in winter. “We use less energy whilst consuming more than we normally would, and weight gain often follows.”
Keen to kick comfort foods? There are other ways to warm up in winter aside from eating donuts under the doona. Here are three of Reece’s favourites!
1. Eat Warm, Wellness Boosting Foods:
There are alternative ways to increase ‘happy hormone’ levels aside from eating junk. These include cooking up big batches of slow-cooked stews or hearty soups that deliver slow burn. “You’ll still get the satisfaction of warming up your chilly body, but they are lower on the glycaemic index and provide a steady release of energy so that you’re less likely to reach for the potato chips or order in a pizza!” he says.
2. Move It To Lose It:
Did you know that you get the same satisfying hit of serotonin from exercise as you do from going on a carbohydrate rampage? Well it’s true! So make moving a priority in the morning before the croissant calls. By all means, get wet in the rain going for that run, and use the hot shower and even hotter mug of tea afterwards as a motivator! If you can't stand to get outside, exercise at home or join a gym for the winter and lock some classes into your seasonal calender.
3. Get Cosy With Your One and Only:
“Lastly – and this is my favourite – hugs boost mood too, so replace all those extra carbs with cuddles!” encourages Reece. Yes, this means furry friends too!
If food is still your fall-back for a happy winter, then here are five ingredients you can fill your fridge and pantry with, in lieu of sugar and salt laden options:
“Ginger has long been used as a warming herb in traditional medicine,” explains Reece. It also improves circulation, which can otherwise tend to slow down during periods of cold and inactivity. Replace your sugary hot chocolate with a fresh ginger root tea, by simply grating it and adding hot water for a super simple way to introduce Ginger into your daily diet.
“Garlic is one of my favourite ingredients to ward off colds and the flu," says Reece. "It boosts the immune system and directly kills bacteria.” Reece likes to add garlic to his soups and stews, in what he describes as “the ultimate example of food as medicine.” Get into garlic as soon as possible to ward off sickness and prevent the need for cold and flu tablets during winter, Reece advises. “Nature has provided garlic as the perfect preventative medicine,” he says, “so increase your chances of getting through winter unscathed by eating it daily.”
“Throat infections can make winter outright miserable,” Reece admits, adding that the oils in thyme kill bacteria and will help with recovery from infections. “My herb nerd hack is to pick thyme in the heat of summer when oil levels are at their highest, and then dry it for use in winter.”
“Whole oats provide slow-burn carbohydrates to improve mood without sending you into an insulin seesaw.” Apart from being a great energy supply, oats – or avena sativa ¬– are considered to be a thymoleptic in herbal medicine, meaning they’ve traditionally been used to improve a low mood. Perfect for on-the-go kids too, porridge is a super easy and energy-giving breakfast for everyone. Just ensure you choose Whole Oats, Reece suggests, as these are a better alternative to refined, packaged cereals.
“Winter is often seen as a season lacking in nutritious vegetables,” Reece admits, but broccoli is the exception as it thrives in the colder months, “and is one of the original - and possibly still the best - super foods.” Although citrus fruits are renowned for boosting vitamin C levels, Reece says that broccoli is a smarter alternative, as it is lower in sugar. If upping your Vitamin C is key, ensure you don’t overcook broccoli, as it is very sensitive to heat. “Only blanch or steam it briefly, and enjoy it with a bit of crunch.”