Winter is well underway, and for many of us that means outdoor play in the snow or quiet times by the fire. For some of us however, the joy of the season is trumped by feelings of sadness, lethargy and lack of motivation, not to mention chronic sniffles.
The winter blues are by no means a modern concept. The ancient Chinese believed that the seasons had a profound effect on human growth and well-being and in order to remain healthy and happy we needed to take steps to be in harmony with them. One step in achieving this harmony was through our diet. This philosophy is no less true today and is often talked about as ‘eating seasonally’. But what does eating seasonally really mean when you have two feet of snow outside and clearly can’t harvest anything from your garden?
Creating a winter friendly diet, and in turn a diet that helps you feel happier and healthier, is easier than it may seem. Although we can’t grab fresh tomatoes from outside our window we are fortunate enough to have captured the summer sun in many healthy foods that were designed by nature to store well for the winter and by no small coincidence help us not only survive but thrive during the colder months.
As you may have suspected these include vegetables such as squashes, carrots, beets, parsnips, onions, garlic and ginger. These foods are appropriately considered warming foods and break down more slowly in your body. A good indicator of warming foods are ones that take longer to grow. Animal foods typically fall into the warming category too including eggs, fish, chicken, beef and lamb.
These foods are also high in protein, which help keep the body strong and fight disease, and are chock full of B vitamins, which are important for mood regulation. Fish is high in Omega-3 fatty acid which is important for brain function and also has been shown to support a healthy mood. Fish like sardines are great sources of Omega-3 and lower in possible contaminants. Whole flaxseed and flaxseed oil make a great plant-based source of Omega-3 for those non-meat eaters.
Other great hardy and winter friendly plant-based foods include legumes like beans, lentils and split peas as well as whole grains such as brown rice, oats, and barley. Like the winter veggies mentioned above these complex carbohydrates break down in your body slowly and allow for a more even keeled feeling the simple carbs.
When it comes to building a healthy winter diet what you don’t eat is also as important as what you do eat for feeling good. Too many sweets and highly processed simple carbs like white flour and white rice can quickly raise your blood sugar and flood your body with insulin. You may receive a quick high from these foods but that high doesn’t last long and ultimately can contribute to feelings of lethargy. Too much sugar also makes your body ripe for a bad bacterial invasion and ultimately inviting in disease.
And although there are a number of deceptively alluring caffeinated beverages that may seem like they will warm you up and make you feel good caffeine actually has the effect of suppressing serotonin, the chemical in our brain which helps elevate mood and alleviate feelings of depression. If you are someone who needs a little bit of that caffeine fix it’s best to have it after a big healthy meal and if you can in the form of good quality dark chocolate – a food shown to positively affect serotonin levels!
Of course you can’t just eat these good for you winter friendly foods all on their own so make sure to read on for a some delicious recipes!
Carrot and Ginger Soup
1/4 cup butter
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tablespoons grated peeled fresh ginger root
1 1/2 lbs carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
In 4-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add ginger root and cook 2 minutes longer. Add carrots and stock to onions; heat to boiling over high heat.
Reduce heat to low, cover and cook carrots until tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
(Alternately, you can cook the carrots first, then add to stock- no need to thinly slice) Use hand blender to blend carrot mixture, in batches, until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste. Heat soup over low heat until hot. Ladle into bowls and serve.
Maple Roasted Root Vegetables
2 -3 yukon gold potatoes, 1 1/2 inch pieces
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2 inch long pieces
3 beets, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
2 large sweet onions, peeled,quartered
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
3 cloves garlic, peeled,minced
Preheat the oven to 400° F. Place the cut root vegetables in a single layer on one or two large baking sheets. Stir together the oil, maple syrup and garlic cloves and drizzle over the vegetables. Stir to combine the oil with the veggies and then spread once again in a single layer on the baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 1 hour until the vegetables are done and a little caramelized from the syrup. Serve immediately.