Ah, winter. The fields have all gone fallow. Quality fresh produce is harder to come by. And that vexing low winter sun leaves us feeling lethargic. We want for energy that either seems out of reach or lends to the quick fixes of sweets and comforting starches. Winter can be a challenging season but we can still fuel a vibrant and an energetic lifestyle by taking advantage of what the season offers. Don’t get down, get cooking!
I have compiled my version of winter food groups with specific cold weather foods to help you roast, stew, sauté, and simmer your way to spring.
The Root of it – Sweet potato, carrot, beets, and fennel
Root vegetables are among the ideal cold weather foods. They are widely available throughout the winter and are healthy additions to many of the slower cooking methods we tend to prefer this time of year. That’s right, it is perfectly ok to heat your house by slow roasting vegetables every night.
The root group is obviously not the most exotic, but what they lack in visual appeal they make up for in their versatility. They roast well, hold up in a slow-cooker, add a meaty component to soup, and tend to store well. Yesterday’s roasted root is today’s soup.
There are also many more varieties than you may realize. These can help add variety in color and texture to your meals, an important part of avoiding the doldrums of winter cooking.
Root vegetables are naturally low in fat and sodium, all with the benefit of high fiber content. Their complex carbohydrates are great sources of energy for those who are active and they are some of the best sources of carotenoid antioxidants, vitamin A and C, you can get.
Additionally, beta-carotene, found in high levels in sweet potatoes, beets, and carrots is a powerful antioxidant; a great way to boost your immunity during the cold season. Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A, which is crucial for reducing inflammation, protecting skin, promoting eye health, and fighting free radical damage.
Root vegetables are also alkalizing, which may help fight inflammation and ease digestive stress. Roots are also good sources of minerals like calcium and iron, vital for those avoiding meat and dairy.
Mood Foods – Salmon, sardines, spinach, kale, collard greens, clams, flax, walnuts, and citrus
With the cloudy winter sky, short days, and lagging exercise regimen that accompanies the winter months, many people find it difficult to maintain a healthy, positive mood. For some, the winter blues can slip into an actual state of depression, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, often referred to by its apt acronym: S.A.D.
The foods in our mood food group are often called “brain foods” as they offer some of the highest levels of the nutrients essential for brain health. Even if winter doesn’t affect your mood, these foods are still a great way to stay happy and healthy.
My favorite cold weather foods for mood are rich in the vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids that are essential for regulating our mood. A few of the most important – and most researched include: Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Folic Acid or Folate (B-9), and the Omega-3 fatty acid.
Since our bodies manufacture Vitamin D from sunshine, the reduced exposure to sunshine during the winter months often means we need to consume more vitamin D. This unique, fat-soluble vitamin has been a growing area of focus in research relating to mood disorders and nutrition.
Spicy Foods – Turn up the heat with hot peppers, ginger, and galangal.
It’s cold outside so turn up the heat! Adding some spice to your winter cooking may (technically speaking) not warm you up, but it can actually make you healthier and may even help you live longer.
In addition to providing high levels of anti-oxidants like Vitamin C (an ounce of Jalapenos provides 66% of your daily recommended value) hot peppers contain chemical compounds called capsaicinoids. These chemicals are the reason for the heat you taste but are also responsible for many health benefits including: lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, reducing the likelihood of blood clots, and burning fat.
Long known for their effectiveness in pain reduction and anti-inflammatory properties, Capsaicin also triggers your body to produce endorphins, a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system that activate the body’s opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect. In other words, a little sizzle in your food may improve your mood.
In addition to the hot peppers, three other spices also offer some spicy health benefits. The rhizomes (root stalks) of ginger and galangal are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties that help improve circulation as well as relieve digestive distress and nausea.
The Cruciferous Group – Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts
These vegetables of the Brassicaceae family are the flowering plants often referred to as the mustards, the crucifers, the cabbage family, or “cole” crops. Much like our winter roots, these are not always the most exciting, especially for kids. But they are packed with nutrients, filling (high in dietary fiber), and are versatile.
An excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin K, they are also great sources of folate, vitamin A, manganese, dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B6 and thiamin (vitamin B1), omega-3 fatty acids, iron, phosphorous, protein, magnesium, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin E, copper and calcium. And they are prebiotic!
The disease-fighting phytochemicals of the Cruciferous are a great way to boost your immune system while feeling satiated.
Soups – Hydrating cold weather foods
During the winter we often forget to hydrate, even though in many places winter can mean low humidity and windy conditions (hello Denver!) that steal our hydration on the sly. We may not be sweating as much, but we still need to consume water to keep our skin looking healthy, our immune system sharp, and our digestive system in balance.
Food is often overlooked as a source for our water needs. On average, food intake provides 20 percent of the fluid we need – but can provide far more if you choose foods high in water content. So this winter, we recommend making soup a regular rotation in your meal planning with cold weather foods.
Soup is a great way to incorporate the other four cold weather foods all at once. Plus, the high water volume of soup can make you feel full sooner, allowing you to better manage your food intake. Eating soup gives you the comfort of a full belly without the calorie density. Whether it is part of a fast or just a warming winter meal, soup should be a staple for your healthy winter cooking