Winter is a critical time to eat proper nutrients because this is the time of year you just aren’t as active and healthy as you may be during the spring, summer, or fall. If you constantly feel improperly nourished, have constant health symptoms (like fatigue and headaches), or are always ill, you may want to think twice about the nutrients you need — and aren’t getting.
Oftentimes, we’d rather stay in bed than exercise or eat pasta for the fifth night in a row over a crunchy salad. Cold weather makes us want to cozy up instead of lace up, and eat with less awareness. Americans lack plenty of nutrients, which in turn is creating a nationwide public health risk. Skimping on nutritious food can cause weakened immune systems, anemia, heart disease, osteoporosis, among many other problems.
The good news is that there are plenty of delicious, in-season winter foods to help us achieve more vitamins and minerals in our diet, which in turn can make us live a healthier, more fulfilled life.
1. Vitamin D
This vitamin is most often absorbed from the sun during warmer months, but unfortunately winter doesn’t get too much sunshine. Oddly enough, you can’t get enough vitamin D from food, no matter how well you eat, which is why sunshine is crucial.
A Danish study followed people for 40 years to track their lifestyle and diet. In countries where the sun sets at roughly 3:30 p.m. in the winter, they found that people get one-fifth of their vitamin D from food and four-fifths from direct sunlight. They found that people who had chronically low levels of the vitamin had 30% higher mortality rates and were 40% more likely to get tumorous growths. Lack of vitamin D also can cause depression, autoimmune diseases, type 1 diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease, asthma, allergies, and even schizophrenia, among others.
Foods: Oily fish like mackerel, salmon, and herring, as well as eggs, red meat, yogurt, and some dairy drinks. Check the packaging to make sure the foods you eat contain at least a bit of vitamin D. In addition, take a daily vitamin D supplement.
2. Vitamin C
It seems as though vitamin C is in everything, but in reality, humans aren’t getting nearly enough vitamin C throughout the day. While it may not totally eliminate colds and flus, it does decrease the severity and longevity of both pesky illnesses. And it turns out that the recommended dosage for vitamin C should be raised by 200 milligrams, according to an article in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can help protect against cancer and heart disease. It also helps build up body tissue, bones, and the production of collagen.
Foods: Citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, cranberries, cabbage, beans, beets, parsnips, and sweet potatoes. You can also take powder vitamin C or tablets of vitamin C for an additional boost.
Zinc is an often overlooked nutrient, but a nutrient you should be paying close attention to year-round. Eat foods (or take a supplement) high in zinc to help strengthen your immune system, promote good digestion, make proteins in DNA, and breakdown carbs.
Foods: Red meats (like pork, beef, and lamb), nuts, whole grains, seafood, and fortified cereals.
Another nutrient we need year-round, but lack in the winter, is antioxidants. They protect our body’s cells from free radical damage caused by pollutants and toxins. These are crucial to staying healthy during the cold months because antioxidants also help protect our immune systems.
5. Vitamin E
Another vitamin to protect our cells, vitamin E protects cell membranes from damage and is thought to protect against cancer and heart disease. Vitamin E also helps widen blood vessels and keeps blood from clotting, in addition to forming new red blood cells.
Foods: Cabbage, vegetable oils, nuts, dark leafy greens, squash, and pumpkin.
Potassium plays a vital role in keeping the heart functioning properly and helps to lowers blood pressure. It also is an electrolyte, which helps our cells maintain fluid balance. In addition, it helps reduce muscle spasms, acts as a blood buffer by maintaining pH and acid levels, prevents kidney stones, and helps prevent leg cramps.
Foods: Bananas, citrus fruits, winter squash, red meat, potatoes, beets, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, kale, and fennel.
Stock up on these seasonal foods this winter to help replenish these vital nutrients.