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Photo of a hearty stewHealthy eating
Food for
thought

Does winter change
our nutritional needs?
Hearty stews pair nicely with fun outdoor activities like snow shoeing, cross-country skiing, and skating during winter.
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By Lisa Begg
Nov/Dec 2018

Winter is a special season.

It brings changes to the menu of foods we like to eat and activities we like to do. We may gravitate towards eating warm and comforting foods like hearty stews, soups, and casseroles and warm drinks like teas and hot chocolate. These foods pair nicely with fun outdoor activities like snow shoeing, cross-country skiing, and skating.

Of course, sometimes we can feel winter is slowing us down and making us feel tired, too.

But does winter change our nutritional needs?

If we are doing less physical activity in the winter, we may need to eat a bit less, though maintaining physical movement is helpful in increasing our energy levels and our mood during the winter.

If we are doing outdoor activities like walking, shoveling, or playing hockey, our bodies do require more energy and eating an extra snack like yogurt and some berries for example can help fuel your activity.

It is true that winter can reduce our vitamin D levels. Normally, we get most of our vitamin D from sunlight exposure on our skin. However, in winter, with shorter amounts of daylight, more layers of clothing, and reduced exposure to sunlight, our bodies do not produce much vitamin D.

During the winter it may be more important to include vitamin D-rich foods like salmon, trout, or sardines, and fortified products like milk, soymilk, or yogurt. Health Canada recommends that men and women over 50 take a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU. For other ages, you may want to discuss vitamin D supplementation with a dietitian or your family practitioner.

Winter can affect our body’s hydration. The cold, the wind, and heavier layers of clothing do increase water loss from the body. This might be one reason why we get chapped lips, and dry hands in the winter. Depending on how much time we spend outdoors, we may need an extra cup or more of fluid per day on top of the average of two-and- a-half to three litres of fluids most adults need daily. Carrying a re-fillable water bottle when we are out can help us to maintain hydration and feel better.

Photo of a plate of salmon
It may be a good idea to include vitamin D-rich foods like salmon in your winter diet.

Other than a few circumstances like these, winter does not really change our nutritional needs. But as we may feel more tired in the winter, with longer nights and colder weather, it can be even more useful to pay attention to what we are eating. Including nutritious foods each day into our diets can help us to feel vital, improve our mood, boost our immune system, and support our bodies to function optimally.

One of the largest surveys of Canadians’ eating habits – the Community Health Survey 2004 – found that many of us are not meeting recommended amounts of vegetables, fruit, milk and milk alternatives, and whole grains on a daily basis. That means we are missing out on important nutrients like folate, vitamins C, A, and E, calcium, and fibre. This likely is affecting how well we feel and our health.

So what can we do to get in more of these foods?

One idea is to do meal planning. Write down a few ideas for breakfasts, lunches, suppers, and snacks for the week ahead, take an inventory of what you have on hand and what you need to buy. Most of us do not do this. We go to the store without knowing what to buy or make. Include some convenient foods like frozen fruits and vegetables, plain yogurt and milk, whole grains like oats, brown rice and pasta, canned fish, and legumes. Set aside time on the weekends to do some prep work. Having more of an idea of what we can eat during the week can help us to eat a more varied and nutritious diet. Unlockfood.ca has great recipe ideas and more tips on meal planning.

Winter is a great time of year to take stock of our nutritional needs and to make some small adjustments that we can maintain all year long.

If you have any nutrition questions or to talk with a dietitian, call Dial-A-Dietitian in Winnipeg at: 204-788-8248, or toll-free at 1-877-830-2892.

Lisa Begg is a registered dietitian at the Klinic Community Health Centre.