By Bob Barnett
Do you tend to eat more as winter approaches? If so, you're not alone. When daylight disappears and the mercury dips, we crave foods that'll warm us up. That's right: We’re hungrier in the winter. “There’s an evolutionary drive to put on body fat in the winter, and lower exposure to sunlight for some people makes them crave carbs,” says nutritionist Mindy Hermann, MBA, RDN, coauthor of The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet.
Fat and carbs? We know how to spell that: mac and cheese! Alt spelling? Short ribs and mashed potatoes! Dessert version? Hot apple pie à la mode! Warm and comforting, sure, but also energy-sapping. “Fat takes the longest to digest, so if you eat a high-fat meal, you’ll feel sluggish,” says Hermann. “Eat too much, you’ll feel sluggish. And if you gain weight, you’ll definitely feel sluggish.”
Solutions? Eat smaller portions of fatty foods, and bulk up on whole grains, beans, veggies and warming spices. Here are some suggestions:
Roast a beet (or two). Beets won't slow you down -- in fact, they may help you run faster. “When runners eat beets, they run about three percent faster,” says New Hampshire nutritionist Eileen Behan, RD, LD, who blogs at her website, For the Love of Food. “The sodium nitrate improves energy metabolism.” Not a beet lover? “Skip the canned stuff,” she suggests, “and [cook] them yourself. Roasted beets are unbelievable.”
Get beany. “Legumes are one of my favorite winter foods,” says nutritionist Janet Helm, MS, RD, who blogs at Nutrition Unplugged. "When the weather gets cold, I look for ways to use chickpeas, black beans, pinto and other beans. I love them in hearty soups, stews, and vegetable curries, which are so warm and comforting." Of course, besides being a hearty, warming, winter-ready food, beans are also extremely good for you. "They’re packed with protein and fiber, so they’re filling without being fattening," says Helm. "And they make a great stand-in for meat in Mexican fare and casseroles."
Lighten up your beef. In the winter, you may crave less salad -- and more beef. Just be sure to lighten up your meal with veggies. “I made a fabulous beef stew last night,” says Behan. “It’s got lots of veggies, it’s hot and easy to make -- a good comforting food on a cold day.”
Get spicy with hot chocolate. Make it with lowfat milk and cocoa powder. Top with cinnamon, and, for a real kick, add a little chili powder. Now, that’s warming! Plus, the active ingredient in hot chili peppers, capsaicin, boosts calorie-burning and helps control appetite.
So don’t be surprised if your hunger seems to kick into overdrive as the temperatures plunge. Just don't let what you eat bog you down. If you choose hearty winter dishes with whole grains and legumes, with just enough fat to satisfy, you’ll have the energy to actually enjoy winter.