Winter holidays may be over soon, but winter will be hanging around for a few more weeks or months, depending on where you live. Cold weather and short dark days may put you in the mood for comfort food and sweet treats, not exactly a recipe for healthy moderation. What to do? You could try to swear off all temptations, but I don’t recommend that either. Here’s a list of some simple positive steps you can take towards healthier food choices, until spring comes along and inspires you to eat nothing but fresh greens and grilled chicken (ha!):
- Eat a piece of fresh citrus every day. Nutritional benefits: vitamin C, folate, fiber, potassium. Oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and clementines are in season, refreshing and taste good.
- Don’t load your coffee and tea drinks up with empty calories. Sugar, flavor syrups and whipped cream are nothing but calories. Not to mention they dilute the actual flavor of the coffee or tea.
- Add a fermented food to your diet (no, not beer). Think kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha. Yogurt is our most popular cultured food, but there are many others, and increasingly grocery stores are carrying them.
- Soup for dinner. Enjoy warm and filling soups for a meal. There are many canned or dry mix soups available, but they all seem to lack vegetables, even the “vegetable” soups. So add your own. It’s too easy: buy a variety of frozen vegetables and add a handful of 3-4 to your pot of soup. Corn, peas, green beans, broccoli, chopped spinach and so forth. Or add a can of cooked beans, like kidney or black beans, which also boosts protein.
- Have at least one salad meal per week. It may be winter but don’t neglect the nutrition power of salads. Can’t be bothered to make salads? Buy them ready-made, at a salad bar or salad-focused restaurant. Add high protein foods like grated cheese, nuts, chopped cooked egg, flaked tuna or salmon, or cooked chicken or turkey. Voila, a meal.
- Don’t rely on bars (no, not those bars!). Whether they’re labeled “energy”, “breakfast”, “power” or whatever, bars are not meals. In some cases, I’m not even sure they’re food. They seem like a good idea — They’ve got a few added vitamins! They’re loaded with protein powder! They’ve got added fiber! They’re “organic” or gluten-free or some other faddish claim. — So what. They’re glorified candy bars. They’re not filling, although some may seem leaden in your stomach, which isn’t the same thing. Don’t rely on bars to get you through the day.
- Don’t diss fats. Fat in food helps you feel satisfied and adds flavor to food. Low fat diets are falling out of favor, with average people and with nutrition researchers. Some are again arguing the case for saturated fats. The healthiest fats are plant-origin: olive oil, canola oil, nuts, avocado and the like. Use oils to sauté food, or for salad dressing. Use nuts for snacks. Spread nut butter or avocado on toast.
- Hot Foods! As in spice. A meal of spicy foods — Mexican, Caribbean, Thai, Indian curries — can warm you up and turn off cravings for post-meal sweets. Added benefit: many of these cuisines are heavy on vegetables and low in sugar.
- Don’t rely on vitamin supplements to get you through the cold and flu season. There’s precious little evidence that high doses of any vitamin provide any protective or curative benefit. The best general advice: stay hydrated and perhaps have some chicken soup.
- Stay active. Despite the short days and cold weather, there are plenty of ways to stay active in winter. Winter sports like skating, skiing, sledding and show shoeing can get your heart pumping. In many places, you can still enjoy walking, bicycling, hiking or jogging in winter. And there are many indoor activities to enjoy when it’s cold outside: racquet ball, handball, dancing, spin classes, other aerobic-style classes, swimming, exercise machines, basketball, volleyball and running on an indoor track. Winter is not an excuse to be sedentary.
This list isn’t necessarily about weight loss. I’m talking about healthy eating, which is always a better plan than strict calorie control or fad diets. People may talk a lot about weight loss schemes in January, but statistics show that few people act on those plans until spring. Winter just doesn’t seem like the right time to mentally beat yourself up about your weight. A more useful and manageable goal: spend the winter incorporating some healthy food habits into your daily life.