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Don't put healthy eating habits into hibernation during winter

by Staci Gulbin | Contributor
October 1, 2020

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During the winter, comfort foods may be calling your name. Not only that, but you are likely not going outside as much during the winter, so you may be less active than in the summer.

From stews and creamy soups to macaroni cheese and mashed potatoes, these stick-to-your-ribs foods are typical wintertime fare at holiday dinners and social gatherings. However, eating too much of these foods can place your health at risk. And if you’re less active, too much of such comfort foods may lead to weight gain and increased risk of health issues.

Therefore, read below for tips on how you can enjoy a delicious wintertime diet while still staying healthy.

Staying healthy in the winter months

The colder weather may have you indoors more than when the sun was out. Because of this, it’s more important than ever to start planning out how you can stay healthy indoors. This healthy winter existence will include not only ways to stay active indoors, but especially healthy eating when you’re not moving around as much.

Staying active indoors

Simple ways you can get more steps in while indoors include:

  • Walking around your home: Schedule about 5 minutes every hour during the day to walk around your home or hop on an exercise bike or treadmill. Over a 12-hour day, this adds up to a 60-minute workout.
  • Using commercial breaks as exercise breaks: If you’re watching more television in the winter than in the summer, use the commercial breaks to engage in some exercise such as jumping jacks, walking in place or doing some bicep curls or other resistance exercises with dumbbells. The commercial break “workouts” during a one-hour program can add up to about a 15 to 20-minute workout that your body and mind will benefit from.
  • Trying online workout applications: If you have a smartphone, computer or streaming service on your television, just search for “workout” and you will find an array of different exercise programs you can follow. They typically range from about 10 minutes to 60 minutes and can be done in the comfort of your home.
  • Cleaning house with music: Since you must clean your house every week anyway, make it into a workout. Turn on your favorite music and dance around the house as you sweep, vacuum and dust your home.

Eating healthy during the winter

When it comes to healthy eating in the winter, not all your favorite produce will be in season. Therefore, you will have to be creative in planning meals and snacks with healthy foods that are in season. Produce in season during the winter months in most regions in the United States include:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Pears
  • Pineapple
  • Avocados
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash

When produce is in season, it will be at its peak in flavor and will be more plentiful. And since it’s more plentiful at harvest time, it will likely be easier on your wallet.

Thicken without adding extra fat and calories

Typical winter dishes contain lots of milk, butter and cream since these ingredients add a rich and thick texture that is filling. However, there are ways to add such texture to winter foods while reducing calories and fat.

  • Puree steamed root vegetables: Steam cauliflower, broccoli or potatoes then puree these vegetables and add to soup stock as a creamy, but fiber-rich base that will also add a bit of flavor. Or just use the pureed vegetables, along with a sprinkle of shredded cheese and your favorite seasonings as a healthy side dish.
  • Use plant-based milks: Instead of whole milk or cream, use unsweetened plant-based milks like soy milk or coconut milk to add thickness to soups and sauces. Soy milk has similar protein content to cow’s milk at around 7 grams protein per cup. And contrary to popular belief, soy does not increase cancer risk in healthy individuals.
  • Choose a natural thickener like cornstarch: Use a whisk or fork to mix one cup of cool water with one tablespoon of cornstarch to create a slurry. Add this slurry slowly to soup stock while stirring the stock to create your preferred thickness of soup without adding a lot of calories or fat.

Dry cooking methods

In addition to replacing cream, butter and milk with lower calorie alternatives, you can also make your favorite winter foods healthy by using dry cooking methods. Instead of frying foods or braising meats, try baking, grilling or roasting meats and vegetables. Not only will you save calories, but you can also bring out the natural sugars in vegetables through roasting in the oven.

For example, dice peeled sweet potatoes and place in an even layer on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake for about 30 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for a delicious and healthy comfort food option for the winter or anytime of the year.

Use healthier ingredients in baking

Jolly old man cooking healthy food

Instead of oil or butter, substitute part of this common baked good ingredient with unsweetened applesauce or mashed banana instead. This will not only provide less fat and calories, but will also add fiber and antioxidants to your recipe.

And if you want to reduce sugar intake in your sweets, try natural sugar alternatives such as blended dates or sugar substitutes like sucralose to reduce sugar intake without sacrificing sweetness.

Making healthy choices during the holiday season

During the holiday season, tasty temptations may surround you at every corner. From hot chocolate to cookies and candies to social gatherings galore, it can be hard to resist such sugary snacks. However, if you give into every temptation, you may be putting your health at risk in the long term. Here are tips to help control holiday season snack intake, while still enjoying yourself.

  • Keep healthy snacks on hand: High-fiber granola bars, protein bars, shelf-stable protein shakes, nuts, seeds and freeze-dried fruit are just some examples of healthy snacks that are non-perishable. Because they are shelf stable, you can store them in your purse, bag or car for healthy snacking anytime of day. And if you have a healthy snack on hand, you are less likely to consume unhealthy snacks you see around you.
  • Bring a healthy dish to social events: If you’re attending a social event at a friend’s house or community center where you can bring a dish, take this as an opportunity to bring a healthy dish. This way when you go to the party, you will have at least one healthy dish you can truly savor while you try little bits of less healthy options.
  • Eat protein first: When you attend a meal during the holiday season, be sure to eat protein and vegetables first. The fiber and protein will fill you up with lots of healthy nutrients, so by the time you reach the carbo hydrate-laden foods like breads and baked goods, you will only feel like eating a small portion. This will save you lots of sugar and calorie intake in the long run.
  • Stay hydrated: Be sure to stay hydrated with plenty of fluid throughout the day. If you’re dehydrated, then you will be more likely to eat more since your body will be trying to obtain fluid from any source it can. Therefore, be sure to drink enough fluid each day for your urine to be a light yellow or colorless. For most people, eight cups a day should be adequate.
  • Reduce portion size: When consuming sugary and carbohydrate-rich snacks, try to reduce your portion size to about 1 ounce to reduce calorie intake. This is just enough to enjoy the food without overdoing it.

The wintertime can bring about delicious offerings for meal and snack time that can conjure up wonderful memories. Although it’s OK to enjoy some of these holiday favorites, it’s important to make most of your meals and snacks healthy during the winter season to avoid unwanted weight gain. For more guidance on healthy eating during the winter, check with your insurance company for wellness programs and potential coverage of consults with a registered dietitian that can help you meet your everyday health goals.

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