Winter can put a damper on immune system function, energy levels and mood. Cooler temperatures and shorter days often translate into less sun exposure and reduced physical activity. This can impact serotonin levels and mood, as well as immune function and energy levels. Cold and flu season, along with a busy holiday season, can add to the challenges of the winter season. This year, plan ahead to overcome those winter challenges with the help of a winter nutritional strategy. Taking a targeted approach to winter nutrition and diet can help support physical health and overall well-being throughout the winter months.
Keep It Real For Better Health
One of the most important things you can do nutritionally to support overall health and well-being is to eat real food. Eliminate as many processed foods as possible from the daily diet. Be especially ruthless in cutting out highly processed foods. Highly processed foods tend to offer little to no nutritional value or fiber. They also tend to be high in sugars, sodium, unhealthy fats and assorted chemicals.
Not only do processed foods provide few health benefits, but many are also actively damaging to health, contributing to a broad range of chronic health conditions and diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Real food is the foundation a nutrient-rich diet is built upon.
Feel Better With Smart Carbohydrate Choices
With the reduced sun exposure and the decrease in physical activity that the winter months can bring, serotonin levels can go down. This reduction can severely impact mood in people with a higher risk of developing season-related depression. As the winter season settles in, many people find themselves craving carbohydrates. That’s not surprising, because carbs influence serotonin production via the release of insulin. Insulin reduces the concentration of amino acids in the blood, except for tryptophan, allowing it to make its way to the brain, where it works in the production of serotonin.
Playing a key role in energy production, carbohydrates are an important part of the diet, typically making up between 45 and 65 percent of daily calories. However, not all carbs are created equal. There are bad carbs: those found in sweets and highly processed foods. Bad carbs offer a quick burst of simple sugar energy, but don’t bring much nutritional value to the table. Good carbs are more complex. They typically offer plenty of nutrition and fiber. Complex carbs digest slower, without the sugar energy crash caused by many simple, highly processed carbs.
Choose high-quality, nutrient-rich carbohydrates instead of highly processed simple carbs. Make sure to eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, legumes, whole grains and nuts. Maximize the nutritional benefits of the calories consumed in a day by choosing complex carbs from real food, avoiding the nutritionally bankrupt carbs found in highly processed foods. Taking this nutritional approach can help support serotonin production, mood, energy levels and immune system function throughout the winter.
Target Immune System Support
The winter months can increase the demands made on the immune system in a number of ways. The holiday season can be stressful and exhausting, eating habits can suffer and there’s always the cold and flu season to contend with. That makes supporting immune system function and health an important element of a winter nutritional strategy.
There are a number of important nutrients your body needs for a healthy immune system all winter long. Vitamin D is essential to the function and health of the immune system. Found in egg yolks, salmon, tuna, beef liver and fortified dairy products, numerous studies have confirmed the critical role of this nutrient in immune system performance. Antioxidant vitamins C and A also support healthy immunity, another reason why fresh fruits and vegetables must play a starring role in winter nutrition. Zinc is another important immune system supporting nutrient, so make sure to include foods such as poultry, eggs, whole grains and fish in the daily diet.
Focus On Energy Nutrients, Nourish The Mind
Maintaining energy levels isn’t just about feeling physically energetic. Proper energy levels also impact the mind – both mood and cognitive function. Many people feel sluggish during the winter months with their shorter days and longer nights.
Make sure to get enough iron, because deficiencies can have a dramatic effect on energy levels. Iron is essential to the process that moves oxygen throughout the body. Animal sources of iron, such as meat and fish, are easier for the body to use. However, plant-based foods, including beans and nuts, can also provide usable iron. The B vitamin complex is also closely aligned with both energy production and mental health and well-being, so eat plenty of leafy green vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
Play It Safe With Winter Nutrition
Because of the deep connections between diet and health, even those that typically eat well can benefit from nutritional supplements, particularly as an important component of winter nutrition. Some nutrients, like vitamin D, can be a challenge to get entirely from food. The amount of nutrients in fruits and vegetables depends on many factors, such as soil quality, that are out of the average consumer’s control. Nutritional supplements that provide a wide variety of high-quality vitamins and minerals are a great way to bridge the occasional nutritional gap.