Author: Tara Cechnicki, RD
With wind chills in the single digits, who doesn’t crave hot cocoa with whipped cream or a steaming plate of pasta and cheese? Your body needs more calories to support its work of staying warm. Still, you needn’t go off the nutrition rails, especially if you follow a Mediterranean diet.
Rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, a Mediterranean diet promotes longevity by lowering the risk for diseases, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It’s a year-round option because its main ingredients — frozen or fresh leafy greens, root vegetables, citrus fruits, salmon, beans, whole grains, berries, Greek yogurt, nuts, and extra virgin olive oil — are always available. Here are some healthy ways to add these foods to your diet this winter.
1. Leafy greens
Leafy greens in winter? You bet. Frozen spinach and kale are as good as fresh. They’re super sources of vitamin C, an immune-system booster; vitamin K, which aids blood clotting; and, vitamin A, important for vision. Of course, you’ll eat them warm!
Menu idea: Stir-fries are natural vehicles for spinach, kale, and arugula. You can also add your veggie to smoothies.
2. Root vegetables
Root vegetables like beets, carrots, and turnips are plentiful during the winter months and packed with essential nutrients, including beta-carotene, and vitamins C and A, which give your immune system the boost it needs to protect you from colds and flu.
Menu idea: With olive oil, lightly coat sliced root vegetables and roast them slowly in a 350-degree oven until their natural sugars caramelize.
3. Citrus fruits
Vitamin C boosts both your immune-system and your mood. Traditional sources include citrus fruits, like oranges, grapefruit, and lemons. Strawberries, mangoes, and kiwis are also high in vitamin C.
Menu idea: Add vitamin-C-rich broccoli, cauliflower, and bell peppers to any dish. If you can’t find them fresh, then buy them frozen.
4. Vitamin D-rich foods
Vitamin D-rich foods are essential during the dark winter months. Salmon is a great source of vitamin D, as are egg yolks, fortified cereals, milk, red meat, and shitake mushrooms.
Menu idea: Rub a little olive oil on a salmon fillet, and sprinkle finely minced ginger root on top before baking at 350 degrees.
Beans like chickpeas (known as garbanzo beans) are full of protein and contain nearly all of the essential amino acids.
Menu idea: Add dried or canned beans to soups or salads, or blend them with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, tahini, and salt to make your own hummus.
6. Low-sodium soup
Soup is a perfect winter food, as long as it’s homemade or low sodium. Low-sodium soups contain 140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving. “Reduced” sodium means that only 25% of a soup’s sodium has been removed. Steer clear of recipes that call for cream, beef, and salt, and use those that use chicken broth, vegetable broth or water as the base and call for lots of vegetables.
Menu idea: Add canned or dried beans or lentils to your soup for extra fat-free protein and fiber. Beans curb your appetite by slowing down digestion and controlling blood sugars, which can help control hunger and bolster mood.
7. Whole grains
Quinoa and other whole grains like oatmeal, farro, bulgur, and buckwheat provide protein and fiber. Oatmeal makes a good winter breakfast or snack. It’s high in zinc, which your immune system needs to function properly, and soluble fiber, which strengthens heart health.
Menu idea: Add cooked whole grains to your salad to keep you fuller longer, and buy whole-grain breads, crackers, and cereals. Add cinnamon, cardamom, or nutmeg to your oatmeal, which will enhance its flavor without adding calories, fat, sugar, or salt.
Paninis and melts are satisfying on cold days and healthy as long as you avoid breads with saturated fat and sodium. Go with whole-grain varieties, which list "whole grain" as the first ingredient on the package.
Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are all high in fiber and antioxidants, rich in vitamin C, manganese, and vitamin K1.
Menu idea: Enjoy berries as a snack or on top of yogurt and oatmeal for breakfast.
9. Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt, compared to other yogurts, has a higher protein content and is a great source of vitamin B-12, calcium, and probiotics, which keep your gut microbiome in balance. Avoid low-fat, “Greek-style” and flavored yogurts.
Menu idea: Sweeten your Greek yogurt with banana or berries, or add it your blender with a little milk, fresh fruit, and crushed ice for a smoothie.
Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pistachios are high in antioxidants and trace minerals. Make sure to buy raw, unsalted, or low-salt options instead of nuts that are candied, salted, or included in trail mix.
Menu idea: Lightly coat walnuts or other nuts, as well as sweet potatoes, beets, or chickpeas with olive oil and roast them in a 350-degree oven and enjoy them for snacking.
About the Author
Tara Joyce, RD, is a clinical dietitian at Stamford Health's Nutrition Counseling Center.