Winter might be full of the great joys of Christmas, but it also brings with it freezing cold weather, an increased likelihood of getting ill and, for some, the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
But food is pretty powerful, and by tweaking our diets we can actually help to counter many of the negative impacts winter has on our body. Here are some of the things you should be loading up on this time of year:
1. Red peppers
Vitamin C is known to reduce tiredness while strengthening your immune system, which is vital during the colder months. "Citrus fruits are commonly hailed as the food that most effectively boost vitamin C and fight colds. However, scrumptious Bell peppers actually contain over three times the vitamin C of an orange and are far more effective," explains nutritional expert and founder of Nosh Detox, Geeta Sidhu-Robb. "Red peppers also contain phytochemicals and carotenoids (which gives it the pigment), particularly beta-carotene, which bestow you with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits."
2. Smoked Salmon
One of the main downsides of the cold weather is the damage it does to our skin, but eating smoked salmon can help with that. "As well as being necessary for our heart, brain and eye health, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids found in smoked salmon play an essential role in the structure and appearance of the skin," explains nutritionist and author of The Natural Health Bible for Women, Dr. Marilyn Glenville. The fatty acids, she says, "are incorporated into cell membranes in the epidermis (the top layer of skin) and form a matrix around the cells, helping to maintain the skin’s barrier function and prevent moisture loss that may occur during the winter months."
Mushrooms are a great addition to any winter diet, according to Sidhu-Robb, because of the antiviral and antibacterial properties they possess, which fight infection. "Button mushrooms in particular are a great source of vitamin D, which helps to boost your immunity," the nutritional expert notes. "Mushrooms are provide a range of essential nutrients like selenium which an antioxidant, as well as niacin, potassium copper and phosphorous. Additionally, mushrooms provide protein, vitamin C and iron."
Adding a note about how best to cook mushrooms to ensure you make the most of their nutritional benefits, Sidhu-Robb advises boiling or cooking your mushrooms thoroughly - "their cell walls are indigestible unless exposed to heat," she says.
Now this is one we can get on board with. As well as vitamin C, vitamin D is a vital part of any winter diet because of its benefits when it comes to our mental wellbeing. "There is a reason (other than the gleaming tans) that the warm summer sun puts a smile on our face, and that is the abundance of vitamin D it provides us with," explains Sidhu-Robb. "Vitamin D is the most effective way to beat the blues. It plays a crucial role in disease prevention and maintaining optimal health, and a deficiency keeps a part of the brain, the hypothalamus, from working which in turn can leave us feeling sleepy, lethargic and demotivated." And the good news? Cheese is known to be a food that boosts levels of vitamin D, along with the likes of egg yolk, orange juice, soy milk, cereals, tuna, mackerel and salmon."
5. Oily fish
One of the most vulnerable parts of the body in winter is our lungs, which are susceptible to colds and respiratory infections. But Omega-3, which "helps increase airflow and protect the lungs," explains Dr Glenville, can help you with that. "Try to eat Omega 3 rich foods like oily fish (sardines, anchovies, herring, salmon, mackerel) three times a week," the nutritionist adds.
"Wild blueberries contain the most active antioxidants of any fresh fruit, all thanks to their high levels of anthocyanins," says Geeta Sidhu-Robb. "Antioxidants help in reversing the damage left by toxins and free radicals by helping your body to defend itself against dangerous pathogens" - perfect for clearing out your system in winter, then.
If you - like everyone else this Christmas - plan to eat all the food, make sure you've got cinnamon in great supply. "Cinnamon is one of nature’s most revitalising herbs. Filled with potent antioxidants - more than almost all other spices and herbs - it can help to boost your metabolism as well as aid digestion, gently warming your stomach, and supporting the breakdown of your food more efficiently," says Dr Marilyn Glenville. Basically, if you want the 46284 Quality Street you ate to successfully digest, cinnamon's your guy. Does it count if you eat it in a bun? Asking for a friend.
"During the long, dark, cold winter months, we may find that our moods drop a little. If you find this happening it is important to make sure you are supporting your serotonin (the 'feel good' hormone) levels," advises Dr Glenville. "The body makes serotonin from tryptophan, which occurs naturally in foods such as bananas, as well as dairy products, fish, dried dates, soya, almonds and peanuts," she adds. If you mix the above foods with unrefined carbohydrates, such as brown rice, wholemeal bread or oats, that'll be even more beneficial as it encourages the body to release insulin, which helps transport tryptophan to the brain, where serotonin is in turn manufactured.