During the winter months, our nutritional needs may change due to colder temperatures, less sunlight, and seasonal availability of certain foods. In addition, people find themselves inside more during the winter months, which may lead to more eating. This does not necessarily reflect nutritional needs changing, but habits may change based on the change in season. Simultaneously, boosting our immunity during the winter is important for staying healthy.
Here are some tips on how to keep on top of both your nutritional needs and your immune system during the winter.
- Cold weather, and more time indoors in close quarters with others, often increases the risk of catching a cold or the flu. To support our immune system, it's important to consume foods rich in vitamins (especially vitamin C), minerals, and antioxidants. Vitamin C is known to enhance immune function. Include foods like citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits), berries, kiwi, bell peppers, and leafy greens in your diet. Incorporating leafy greens, berries, garlic, ginger, and nuts into your diet can also be beneficial.
- With shorter daylight hours and limited sun exposure, our bodies may produce less vitamin D. You can try to include foods naturally rich in vitamin D, such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel), eggs, and fortified dairy products. Alternatively, consider talking to your healthcare provider about the possibility of taking a vitamin D supplement. Having your vitamin D level checked is easy and can be a part of annual blood work. If you usually have your physical during the summer, you can ask your doctor to check your Vitamin D level in the winter to see if there is any change.
- In colder weather, we may not feel as thirsty as we do in warmer months, but it's still important to stay hydrated. Drinking enough water and consuming hydrating foods like soups, herbal teas, and juicy fruits can help maintain optimal hydration levels. Drinking enough calorie free drinks is also helpful for weight management during the winter months.
- Incorporate zinc-rich foods like seafood (oysters, crab), lean meats, poultry, legumes, seeds, and nuts into your diet.
- There is a wealth of ongoing research on probiotics, gut health and immunity. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that support gut health and immune function. Probiotics can be found in foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermented foods. Alternatively, you can consider taking a probiotic supplement; some are geared towards constipation or IBS, and some strains are thought specifically to help boost immunity.
- Stay hydrated during the winter. Drinking plenty of water helps maintain optimal immune function. Stay hydrated by consuming water, herbal teas, and hydrating foods like soups and fruit with a high water content.
- Sleep always plays a crucial role in maintaining a strong immune system. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.
- Keep moving – even during the cold months. Engaging in regular physical activity can help boost your immune system. Find some indoor activities that you enjoy, or take advantage of the many free videos online that offer everything from yoga to Zumba. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
- Chronic stress can weaken the immune system. Practice stress management techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, or engaging in hobbies you enjoy to reduce stress levels.
Of course, the holidays in November and December can be a challenging time to change your diet or routine. People often worry that their healthy eating and weight management goals are going to be doomed. But remember that we’re talking about roughly 60 days. Even if someone has 10 higher calorie days in there because of holiday celebrations, they still have 50 other regular days where they can be careful.
During holiday time we should focus on “all the days in between.” If we eat in a healthy way on those regular days, we have more flexibility on the holiday celebration days to spend extra calories and still be okay with our weight management goals.
I believe in using the 80/20 concept: 80% careful, 20% flexible. Holiday time is a perfect example of spending the 20% on things that we may not have the rest of the year – but continue to be careful 80% of the time on the regular days.