The dark days of our West Coast winter are here…which leaves many of us reaching for holiday treats. The challenge with this approach is that rich, highly processed foods tend to provide immediate comfort in the way of a carbohydrate-induced serotonin boost that, over the days and weeks, leaves us feeling lethargic, heavy and tired. With all of the holiday rush and excitement, you need to feel energized, not depleted. Committing to good nutrition now will help you sail through the holiday season with plenty of steam left to tackle those New Year’s resolutions come January 1st.
While the dark days certainly play a role, holiday treats are surefire energy zappers when you overindulge. These goodies are typically filled with processed flour, sugar and saturated fat—a combination that is a one-two punch to a healthy metabolism. These foods send blood sugar levels soaring only to crash quickly, while excess insulin release helps you store the fat. This rise-and-fall cycle affects your mood, your appetite and sets you up for weight gain.
When celebrating, deprivation is not the answer. Try instead to choose the more energizing options. Instead of crackers and breads with your favourite dips, why not choose brightly coloured veggie crudités? Opt for a few slices of lean roast beef or salmon instead of the sausage rolls, and save room for one small piece of your favourite sweet. The opportunities to feast during the holidays are endless…so be choosy. Keeping nourished with plenty of healthy foods at home and at work can help fight hunger so that you are less inclined to raid the treats.
When winter hits, salads can seem unappealing. Eating with the changing seasons means listening to your body’s needs and attending to them wisely. As days get shorter and cooler, we naturally gravitate towards warm, heavy foods. Soups, stews and casseroles are deeply satisfying and are easy to fill with energizing ingredients. Need nourishment on busy days? These dishes freeze well, so dinner can be thawing all day and prepped in 10 minutes when you are on the go.
Take advantage of fresh, sweeter winter greens like kale, chard and collards and add them shredded to your favourite dishes. Greens help to combat free radical damage caused by stress through their high content of antioxidant beta carotene and chlorophyll. Legumes such as lentils and black beans provide heaviness to our favourite dishes that appeals in cold weather. Their fibre and protein help to fill you up and keep you satisfied; the carbohydrates in legumes are slowly absorbed, providing longlasting energy without the crash. Soluble fibre helps bind cholesterol and fats in the gut, helping to offset holiday treat fallout.
Turkey is in abundance in December and is a fantastic lean protein to help keep you powered through the day. Instead of a cold cereal breakfast, why not toast up a quick turkey breast, cranberry and baby spinach sandwich? Combining fibre, slowly digested carbohydrates and protein in the morning is a recipe for stable blood sugars—which means sustained energy throughout the morning.
Wild mushrooms are also a year-round staple with an important role to play in winter meals. Mushrooms like shiitake and maitake are potent immune boosters thanks to lentinan, a polysaccharide and ergosterol, a vitamin D precursor. The B vitamins in mushrooms may even help to beat the wintertime blues.
When the cold seems to seep into your bones, heating spices like chili and ginger can provide relief. Ginger, a potent antiinflammatory food, goes well minced in stews and soups. Feel a cold coming on? Tea made from boiled ginger root, lemon slices and honey is soothing and warming. Chili peppers add a fiery kick to chilies and stir-fries and may even help boost metabolism.
Winter can seem like it stretches on forever and overindulging tends to leave us exhausted by the end of the holiday season. This winter, choose to energize through in-season fruits, vegetables and other healthy options. As others simply wait for spring, you can ski, splash and party your way through the dark!