By Ayhan Dağ, PhD / Dietitian Manager, Cafeterias Management
During the winter, with shorter days and longer nights, and less sunshine than usual, we often hear people express concerns about putting on “winter weight.”
Why do we gain weight in the winter? The answer is quite simple. First, we stop doing some of our summertime physical activities. As the weather gets cold, and the rain and snow start, we forego even short walks. As our activity levels and basal metabolic rates fall, we take in more calories than we expend, and so we start gaining weight.
The second reason for weight gain is associated with the shorter days and longer nights. As the days get shorter, we don’t pay as much attention to eating as a result of daytime work intensity. We may not even feel hungry during the day. But then, as evening falls, we can barely control our appetites. We eat more, including extras such as dessert. Already slow at night, our metabolism fails to function well, and we start storing fat.
Still another factor leading to weight gain in winter is falling body temperature as a result of cold weather. The body needs to reach a specific temperature in order to protect itself from the cold, and this means additional calories. We start consuming more, including high-calorie foods rich in carbohydrates (sugar, flour, etc.) and fat. The higher intake of such foods makes weight gain inevitable.
So what should we do in winter? How and what should we eat for healthy and balanced nutrition? Here are some hints:
One should be careful about the number and order of meals. To keep metabolism stable and ensure a feeling of satiety, one should have six meals a day: three main and three “supplementary” meals. For these supplementary snacks, foods rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber—for instance, dried fruits like figs and apricots, or walnuts, almonds and other nuts—that make you feel satiated should be chosen.
One should not remain hungry too long. One should also avoid eating fast food and other foods high in fat or sugar content just for caloric intake. There is no sense in the notion, “I’ll get warmer in cold weather if I eat sweets.” Instead, body temperature should be kept stable by sticking to a diet of sufficient and balanced meals.
Another way to avoid gaining weight during the winter is by paying attention to our daily water intake. In the winter we may feel less thirsty than in the summer, and so drink less. However, it should be remembered that we still need to have 2-2.5 liters of water a day (10-12 glasses), and that tea, coffee and soft drinks cannot take the place of water. Water regulates our digestive system and also suppresses the feeling of hunger. Since it helps keep our metabolism working well, it helps us lose weight.
Finally, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, which contain both water and fiber, will contribute to a feeling of satiety without excess calories, helping to maintain a healthy weight. These foods also help keep us healthy in other ways. Infectious diseases such as flu and the common cold are widely seen in the winter. Therefore, our diet should include nutrients, vitamins and minerals that strengthen our immune systems and enhance the body’s disease resistance—in particular, we should increase our intake of antioxidants, including Vitamins A, C and E as well as zinc.
The Magic of Winter Fruits in Nutrition
Fortunately, nature has gifted us with “winter fruits” such as tangerines, oranges, grapefruit and kiwis, all rich in vitamin C. In contrast, during the summer months, when the weather is hot and the body needs more water, fruits with a high water content, such as grapes and melons, are available. Hence, year-round balanced and sufficient nutrition is closely associated with the consumption of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Ideally, we should consume 3-4 portions of fruit daily.
Below is further information about some winter fruits, including the apple, pear, pomegranate, orange, quince, kiwi and tangerine.
With its antioxidant vitamins C and E, the apple strengthens the immune system and increases disease resistance. The fiber and flavonoids in apples are also extremely important for human health. According to one study, eating two normal-size apples a day reduces cholesterol levels by 16%.
This fruit has a high content of phosphorus and vitamin B, making it a remedy for mental fatigue. It also has significant amounts of vitamin C and copper.
The pomegranate contains the antioxidant vitamins A and C, as well as niacin, potassium and fiber, in significant amounts. Its immune system-friendly properties serve as a barrier against flu.
A wintertime favorite, the orange is well known as a rich source of vitamin C, serving to boost the body’s defenses against colds and similar illnesses. It also contains vitamin B, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
The tangerine has a similarly high level of vitamin C. In addition, its potassium content helps lower high blood pressure.
This fruit offers multiple benefits for the body with its carbohydrate, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and Vitamin C content. It helps with recovery from flu and colds.
Still another nutritious winter fruit that helps protect us from cold-related health problems, the kiwi is high in vitamins A and C.
Eating plenty of these delicious fruits, and following the other tips noted above, will help you have a healthy winter without gaining extra weight.