Winter food to fuel good health

During the winter months it is reasonable to expect that the needs of the body will change in line with these environmental differences. Perhaps the most obvious is that the body will change its drive for thermoregulation. During hotter months the body works hard to keep the body cool by vasodilating or widening the blood vessels near the skin to radiate heat away from the core as well as releasing sweat to help cool the skin. Sweating losses require more focus on hydration during hotter months. The cold winter weather requires that the body shifts towards maintaining body temperature and reducing heat and fluid losses by vasoconstricting or narrowing blood vessels and generating more heat from working muscles to keep body temperature elevated. This increased thermoregulatory energy demand must be provided by the food we eat. Indeed scientific research dating back to 1991 shows some clear differences in autumn and winter versus spring and summer eating habits. The autumn / winter dietary changes can be summarized as:

·         Increased total caloric intake

·         Increased carbohydrate intake

·         Meals eaten more rapidly

·         Higher hunger levels after meals

It seems the body demands that we eat differently to cope with the colder, damper environmental conditions. This is not all. Studies into adipose tissue regulation have demonstrated that the body clearly increases it’s the movement of fat into the adipose tissue during colder temperatures compared to during warmer temperatures. It seems that humans may have some of the survival mechanisms we are more familiar with seeing in animals that hibernate; a drive to eat more energy rich foods, greater levels of hunger and increased movement of fats into adipose tissue during the autumn and winter months.

It is also important to recognize that our nutritional needs vary in the winter too. For example, vitamin D is normally sourced from exposure of our skin to sunlight that then causes the conversion of cholesterol based compounds into active vitamin D3. During the 5-6 months of colder, wintry weather change in the angle of the sun in respect to the earth combined with the shorter daylight hours means that vitamin D levels tend to drop. As vitamin D is often a commonly deficient nutrient in the population at the best of times it means that our needs for this nutrient are especially high in winter. Individuals with a well-balanced, high quality diet should be able to eat and convert enough vitamin D during the summer months to be able to store a necessary reservoir in their body fat to cover the winter requirements. However, the modern diet is typically lacking in vitamin D, which combined with our fears of over exposure to the sun and damage to the skin, can often mean in winter we are distinctly lacking in this essential hormone-like vitamin. As vitamin D is fat soluble, then a suitable solution is to ensure that our meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs come from animals that are reared as nature intended – outdoors in pasture or swimming in the sea. They will spend all summer long exposed to the sun’s rays and will then have an increased level of fat soluble vitamin D stored within their bodies. This will lead to more vitamin D rich food to assist us during the winter months. This of course does mean that we need to eat the fats within these foods to benefit from the needed vitamin D. Heart-warming stews and soups made from real bone stocks and basic cuts of quality meat (not lean), combined with winter vegetables can serve as a very tasty vehicle for this important nutrient.  Another option is to supplement with naturally produced cod liver oil that has sufficient levels of active vitamin D3.

The message that fruit is good for our health has permeated almost every element of the diet and nutrition world and there is no doubt that this advice comes with plenty of positive evidence. However, this does not mean that we should be eating copious amounts of fruit all year long. In the hotter summer months eating cooling, refreshing foods like whole fruit, fruit salads and fruit juices can be very enjoyable whilst providing vital nutrients for health. To add to this many fruits are in season and often found locally in abundance at this particular time of year.

During winter months, with the colder, harsher climate, there tends to be a greater desire for foods such as soups, stews and broths. Once again this is where seasonal winter vegetables come to the forefront as an integral part of these warming, nourishing meals that are often enjoyed at the end of a long, cold day. Fruits are generally out of season and in scarce supply in the winter months. In times before importing fruit was normal practice, it was unlikely that much fruit would have been eaten at this time of year. Apples, pears, cherries and rhubarb are the main fruits that are locally available during a British winter. Interestingly many of these fruits can be used to make warming meals and desserts rather than being eaten cold and raw. All of these fruits are traditionally used in making pies, crumbles, and sauces that are eaten warm. Apples, pears and cherries can also be used in delicious savoury meals as well. This can help provide that warming nourishment we seek for in the winter, rather than the cooling effect that fruits provide in the summer.

apple-pie

The following is a tasty and nutritious apple and raspberry pie recipe to enjoy warming fruits during the colder months:

Ingredients for the fruit mixture:

4 seasonal Bramley apples

200g frozen raspberries

Juice from 1 organic lemon

Optional for taste: 2 tbsp rapadura (or organic unrefined sugar)

1 grated organic lemon rind

1 tbsp arrowroot

½ tsp organic cinnamon

For the pastry: 9 ” pie shell with some left over for lattice work.

1 1/3 cups organic unbleached white flour

Pinch of unrefined sea salt

1/2 cup organic butter or lard

2 organic, free range egg yolks

3 rounded tablespoons filtered cold water

Method:

Peel and core apples and dice into 1 – 2 cm cubes, toss with lemon juice. Mix rapadura, lemon rind, arrowroot and cinnamon together and toss with the apples and raspberries.

Sift flour, sea salt into food processor, place butter on a board and cut into about 16 pieces using a sharp knife. Distribute butter over flour, pulse processor several times until butter is broken into pea-sized pieces and is well distributed.

Beat egg yolks briefly with a fork, dribble over flour mixture and mix once or twice. Have water ready, turn on processor and immediately pour water in. stop processor at once so butter doesn’t get any smaller. Turn crust onto waxed paper, wrap up and squeeze together forming a ball. Refrigerate for several hours. Roll out onto floured surface, once right thickness place into press dough firmly into sides and drape over the top. Prick dough with a fork, then place apple mixture into base and cover over with lattice design. Leave some gaps so the apples can cook through.

Cook on the middle shelf, 180-200 degrees Celsius (350-375 Fahrenheit) for 45 minutes (or until crust is golden)

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