By Stephanie Eckelkamp
There’s certainly a nip in the air, and at least for us, that triggers cravings for everything from hot chocolate to mac and cheese to big old cinnamon buns. All things that, unfortunately, are low in nutrients, high in calories, and cause mood-wrecking blood sugar spikes and dips (we fully support them in moderation, though, especially hot chocolate with a splash of Bailey’s).
So during a season with minimal sunlight in which we’re all feeling pretty blah in general, save for the holiday giddiness, you might want to take it easy on these seasonal comfort foods.
But what exactly should you eat?
“As the seasons change, your body changes too. Eating nutrient rich, fresh, and local foods is a great way prepare for colder weather, revitalize your body, and promote well-being,” says Dr. Kristen Bentson, owner of YouAnew Lifestyle Nutrition in Bethlehem.
Turns out, even though there’s less of a variety than summer, there’s still plenty of fresh, seasonal fruit and veggie picks to choose from that are brimming with nutrients that benefit both physical and mental health.
We asked Bentson, along with Gina Hassick, registered dietitian and owner Easton-based Eat Well with Gina, to share their top foods for nourishing the mind and body as the mercury drops.
All citrus is in season, but clementines gain points with us since their so easy to peel. And Bentson loves them too: “Clementines may look little, but they are power packed with nutrients. They’re a great source of cancer-kicking limonoids, immune-boosting vitamin C, and inflammation fighting zeaxanthin,” she says.
Get your fix: Bentson loves combining clementines and mixed raw nuts for a simple and fast go-to snack. You can add slices of clementine to a fresh salad too.
2. Winter Greens
We get it, salads might not be your go-to in winter, but that doesn’t mean you should pass up seasonal greens like kale, swiss chard, and spinach. “Greens provide quality nutrients, like magnesium, iron, and B vitamins, that help curb cravings, energize, and improve metabolic and brain health,” says Hassick. “They also have a calming effect on the body.”
Get your fix: Greens can be easily incorporated into smoothies and salads, sautéd in olive oil for a side dish, or mixed into a soup, suggests Hassick. Don't feel like making your own smoothie or salad? Hit up a healthy local eatery like Greenmouth. “I love enjoying a nutrient packed lunch or smoothie while enjoying the peaceful atmosphere,” she says. “Places like this nourish your mind and body not only through the foods they provide, but also their environment.”
“Beets get their color from betalains, a pigment which is known to reduce inflammation and support the body’s detox system,” says Bentson. “But be sure not to overcook your beets. To preserve delicate nutrients, keep roasting time under one hour.”
Get your fix: “Nothing beats lightly roasted beets,” says Bentson, who recommends sourcing local beets from Bechdolt Orchards in Hellertown. Here at Live Well, we roasting our beets along with sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts for a nutrient-packed trifecta of winter veggies.
4. Whole Grains
Skip the mac and cheese and opt for some whole grain goodness. “Whole grains like brown rice, oats, and quinoa provide fiber, protein and essential amino acids that our mind and body need to stay healthy,” says Hassick. “Whole grains can help provide steady long-lasting energy, keeping blood sugars more steady through out the day therefore reducing cravings.”
Get your fix: Try a grain bowl! Start with a whole grain base like quinoa, then add some goodies like sautéed kale, sliced apple, toasted pumpkin seeds, roasted root veggies, and chicken, then finish everything off with a warm vinaigrette.
5. Winter Squash
Squash is one of those food we gagged on as a kid, but can’t get enough of as adults. And that change of heart, it turns out, is awesome for our health. “Squash also pairs perfectly with seasonal flavors like cinnamon and ginger. Plus, it's great source of vitamin A and even contains some omega-3 fatty acids,” says Bentson.
Get your fix: When the weather gets cold, nothing is better than a warm bowl of butternut squash soup. Bentson recommends trying out her creamy Apple and Butternut Squash Soup.
It’s time to get on board with this underutilized root veggie! “If you like carrots, you'll love it's close relative, the parsnip,” says Bentson. “This uniquely white root vegetable is rich in B vitamins, iron, calcium, and potassium.”
Get your fix: Try them mashed with potatoes, raw in a salad or roasted with onions, garlic, carrots, and Brussels sprouts, suggests Bentson.