As winter approaches and nights draw in, it’s harder to resist the temptation of comfort food, to keep us warm and fuzzy inside. As much as we try, something about the cold weather and dark evenings inevitably makes us cave in. To help you stay strong, here are six winter warming tips to help you stay healthy, resist temptation and stay warm through the darker months.
1. Diet-induced thermo…what?
Diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT) is a fancy word to describe the energy we use when we eat. Every day, DIT accounts for 5-15% of our total energy expenditure and, by using energy, it also raises our body temperature. So, why not try and increase your DIT to burn a few extra calories and keep you warm, at the same time? The best way to do this is to eat three wholesome meals per day at regular intervals, and to pack lots of lean protein into each meal. This will increase the DIT of your meal, and keep you satisfied for longer. Double bonus! Interestingly, fat has the lowest DIT of the three major macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats), so our temptation to eat high fat comfort foods does no favours on any level.
2. Spice things up
We’ve all experienced the sweats when eating a very spicy curry, and you don’t need me to tell you hot chillies and cayenne pepper can warm you up from the inside. But it doesn’t stop there. Chilli, cinnamon, garlic, ginger and turmeric are rich in antioxidants, and are easily added to lots of dishes for a winter-warming health and taste boost. Better still, a recent study showed that black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, oregano and rosemary exhibit prebiotic potential, by encouraging the growth of good gut bacteria, and suppressing the growth of bad gut bacteria. What better time to start spicing things up, than in the colder, darker, bug-ridden months?
3. Slow it down
Slow cookers are perfect for creating easy, healthy and comforting family meals, without slaving over a hot stove. They’re a great way to use up leftover veg too, and you don’t even need to follow a recipe to make delicious creative dishes. Just throw in loads of veg, meat/fish/pulses, stock and/or tinned tomatoes, a sprinkle of herbs, spices and seasoning, and you can’t really go wrong! Not to mention the amazing smell it infuses throughout your home, tantalising your taste buds in anticipation. Bliss! Plus, you can cook in bulk and have a super quick hot meal option on hand, for when you need it most. So dust off that old slow cooker in your cupboard and start slow-cooking!
4. Sleep & snack well
It’s no secret scheduling a healthy snack in between meals helps stave off unhealthy food cravings. But that’s only half the battle. Research shows that just a single night of “modest sleep reduction” can have a profound effect on eating patterns, leading to significantly increased hunger, food cravings, portion sizes and food rewards (e.g. milk chocolate) being consumed. Even with the best will, healthy eating plans are hijacked by a bad night’s sleep. So, be sure to prioritise sleep above all else. And schedule some healthy snacks to stop you raiding the cupboards or picking at the kids’ dinner, before sitting down for your own. Try some fruit dipped in no-added sugar nut butters, spiced and roasted chickpeas, or vegetable sticks with homemade houmous.
5. Seek out the sun
Getting outside for a stroll in the sun, whenever you can catch it, has several benefits: a free dose of Vitamin D, which one in five of us is short of; a bit of exercise to warm up the bones; and the release of mood-boosting serotonin, to stave off seasonal affective disorder (also known as “winter depression”). This critical hormone affects our mood, appetite and sleep patterns, and is released when sunlight reaches our eyes. As more of us work from home, and we approach the shortest days of the year, it’s essential we all make the most of any rays of sunshine, for an all-round health boost.
6. Stay hydrated
Water is the most important single “nutrient” our body needs to survive. Without water, we’d die in three days; without food, we’d survive up to two months. That says it all, doesn’t it? In winter, it’s easy to forget to drink, as we’re not obviously losing water or sweating like we do in summer. Plus, we may not feel as thirsty. Good hydration is critical to regulating our body temperature, as well as maintaining our immune system, gastrointestinal health, muscle function and mood. It can also affect our appetite, as thirst signals are often confused with hunger. So whenever you’re hungry, have a glass of water or a cup of herbal tea, before you reach for those snacks. Aim for eight to ten cups of fluid a day, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Your body will thank you for it.