Winter is here and as the temperature drops, many people find it increasingly difficult to maintain a healthy diet. The combination of holiday eating, lack of sunlight, less physical activity, more comfort foods, deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals, and more hibernation can not only lead to weight gain, but also wreak havoc on your immune system and cause changes to your mood. The good news is by choosing healthy foods, including important vitamins and minerals in your diet, and maintaining an exercise regime, you can help ward off weight gain, beat the winter blues and support your immune system this winter.
Boost your immune system with vitamin C. Vitamin C is abundant in many brightly colored summer fruits and vegetables, which are much more limited in the winter. While it may not prevent the common cold, studies have shown that 1000 mg of vitamin C supplements may help lessen the symptoms, length and severity of a cold.
Sunlight is one of the best sources of vitamin D, but shorter winter days mean less time to gain sun exposure, which can lead to a drop in serotonin that can cause depression and food cravings. Sunshine is the best natural source of vitamin D, so during the winter, you may want to consider vitamin D supplements, which studies have shown may help to reduce the risk of colon, breast, and ovarian cancers by as much as 50%.
Iron helps to transfer energy throughout the body, improve muscle function and support the immune system. If you feel sluggish when the temperature drops, one reason may be you’re not getting enough iron in your diet. Iron is primarily found in red meat, poultry, seafood and dark leafy vegetables. If your doctor confirms you have iron deficiency, an iron supplement may be needed.
Zinc is an essential mineral that supports immune function, cell division, wound healing and helps to breakdown carbohydrates. To help support your immune system this winter, you may want to increase your zinc intake, which is found in shellfish, red meat, poultry, fortified cereals and dairy products. Some research indicates that zinc supplementation may reduce symptoms of the common cold, if ingested within the first 24 hours after the onset of symptoms. Zinc supplementation may be beneficial for groups at risk for deficiency, such as breast-feeding women, individuals with gastrointestinal disease or strict vegetarians.
Omega-3 fatty acids help support a number of bodily functions, including muscle activity, blood clotting, digestion, fertility, cell division and growth. Research supports a connection between seasonal affective disorder (a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year) and deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids. Some of the best food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, mackerel, flaxseed, hemp, and canola oil. If you have limited intake of these foods, you may want to consider a nutritional supplement.
Probiotics may help to restore levels of healthy bacteria in your body which may help support your immune system. Fermented dairy products such as kefir, yogurt, and sauerkraut provide live cultures but also contain calories, sugar, or salt. As an alternative, you may want to consider taking a probiotic as a dietary supplement, especially during the winter months and after antibiotic use.
Keeping your body healthy during the winter months can be challenging, but by choosing healthy foods, getting plenty of exercise, and including important nutrients in your diet, you’ll give your body the best chance at staying healthy all winter long.
(1) Lewis, S. (2016, May 09). Nutrition to beat the winter blues. Retrieved from http://healthylivingmadesimple.com/nutrition-beat-winter-blues/
(2) Winter Nutrition – Healthy Eating Offers Good Protection During the Chilly Season. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/011209p48.shtml