The year's colder months mean fewer daylight hours and the risk of inclement weather. For that reason, many of us may remain indoors for longer periods. We can tend to increase our dietary intake and decrease physical activity as we age. For healthy aging, we need to increase activity, consume foods that are high in nutritional value, and reduce fat and sugar intake. Focusing on superfoods may be an ideal way to assist with living healthy this winter.
Superfoods are foods dense with nutrients and antioxidants for the maintenance of good health and an immunity boost.
Winter months sometimes mean staying inside due to inclement weather. Eating healthy superfoods instead of processed foods can aid in maintaining a healthy weight and support healthy aging.
As we age, intentionally having a diet rich in nutritionally dense superfoods can boost immunity and protect the body from infection and chronic illness.
What does superfood mean?
The term 'superfood' was created in the 1990s as a marketing tool to increase the sales of certain foods with health benefits. However, that definition means that many foods could fall into that category. However, 'superfood' has come to describe foods that are dense in essential nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Encouraging the consumption of superfoods is essential all year round, but more so in the winter when there can be a reduction in the availability of foods such as leafy greens in northern areas of the country. Superfoods needed for healthy aging will reduce the risk of expected colds, cases of flu in winter, and chronic illnesses such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Antioxidants are essential in your diet to combat oxidative stress in your body that can lead to disease. Antioxidants are in the highest concentrations in fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Foods with the highest value of antioxidants include blueberries, broccoli, walnuts, and dark chocolate.
What nutrients do we lack in winter?
Whether from lack of sunshine or just because we eat different foods, winter can be a time when we lack certain essential nutrients. We may turn to supplements to compensate, but obtaining your nutrients from whole foods is the best source, as supplements lack fiber. However, when foods are out of season in your area, you may find that what comes from southern climates may be more expensive and less flavorful.
Here are some nutrient deficiencies to consider as we approach the winter months.
- Vitamin C is water-soluble, which means the body cannot store this vitamin, so we must consume enough vitamin C every day. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and an immunity booster since it aids in white blood cell production to fight infection.
- Vitamin D production occurs with skin exposure to light. It is a valuable vitamin needed for bone health and calcium absorption. A lack of vitamin D may also be a factor for fatigue, sleep disorders, and SAD (seasonal affective disorder).
- Zinc is another essential nutrient that is deficient in winter. Zinc is a powerful healing agent and supports our immune system. Zinc is also necessary for protein synthesis, aiding tissue repair and wound healing.
- Vitamin B6 is a nutrient needed for a healthy immune system. It is also essential for your nervous system to function correctly and for optimal brain health.
- Vitamin B12 is a building block for red blood cells and nerve function consumed through food or supplements. Low vitamin B12 levels may impact mood and cognitive function. Older adults are at higher risk of B12 deficiency and may need a supplement. Consult with your healthcare provider regarding which strength is right for you.
- Proteins comprise amino acids necessary for all cellular health as building blocks, especially for repairing and maintaining bones, muscles, and skin. Healthy immune system function also requires protein.
- Omega-3s support heart, eye, and brain health. Omega-3s have powerful anti-inflammatory properties that support the prevention of chronic illnesses such as heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Dietary fiber is necessary for digestive health and also helps regulate a person’s blood sugar.
10 superfoods for winter
- Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, cabbage, and Swiss chard are great superfoods packed with nutrients and simple to add to your daily diet in salads, sandwiches, and soups.
- Broccoli is high in antioxidants and is a 'cruciferous' vegetable. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and turnip are also in this group. These are the kind of vegetables you can use in winter in a homemade soup or a casserole.
- Oranges, mangos, kiwi, and strawberries are excellent sources of vitamin C and contain fiber for digestive health. It's the perfect choice for breakfast or a snack throughout the day. Clementines and tangerines are plentiful during the holiday season and excellent vitamin C sources.
- Salmon, tuna, and other fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids that reduce the risk of heart disease. This kind of fish is also a great source of vitamin D needed in winter. Eat fish as a main meal or as a tasty sandwich.
- Blueberries are a powerful superfood containing high levels of antioxidants. They are a versatile fruit you can toss in oatmeal or add to a smoothie.
- Nuts, as well as seeds packed with fiber and antioxidants, are a great source of nutrition. Nuts also contain plant protein. Seeds such as chia, flax, and hemp also contain omega-3 fatty acids.
- Eggs contain zinc, protein, vitamin B12, and iron. Eggs were once discouraged because of cholesterol but are now considered a valuable superfood. Eggs are also versatile: scrambled, hard-boiled, or added to recipes, and they are great for any meal of the day.
- Avocados are packed with antioxidants and healthy fat and are a tasty addition to a smoothie or sandwich or used to make guacamole.
- Dark chocolate may be an acquired taste, but it's loaded with antioxidants. Having a square or two in the evening makes a great snack.
- Plain Greek yogurt has high protein levels and low fat and is versatile for a smoothie or as a substitute for sour cream.
What food is rich in vitamin D?
Vitamin D deficiency may be more common in the northern parts of the country in winter due to the reduced hours of sunlight. That is why it is vital to increase dietary intake of vitamin D-rich foods or supplementation. You can consult your primary healthcare provider about the best supplement for your needs. Some foods that contain vitamin D include:
- Egg yolks
- Fortified milk products
- Fortified cereal
- Red meat
What foods to avoid in winter?
Some people gain weight during winter due to consuming more comfort foods and reduced physical activity. Avoiding or at least limiting certain foods for better health is recommended. Because we spend more time at home, we may opt for unhealthy processed or fast food that is high in calories and short on nutrients.
When our bodies lack nutrients, we have an increased appetite to fill that void. Avoiding these foods can help in weight loss instead of gain.
You should limit or avoid the following:
- Fast food
- Fried food
- Sugary desserts
- Any highly processed food
Healthy winter snacks
What are some healthy snacks you munch on while sitting by the fireplace or watching television?
If you need some new ideas, try these:
- Raw vegetables like carrots, celery, and broccoli with hummus
- Apples, bananas, oranges
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Whole-grain toast
- Almonds, walnuts, cashews
- Greek yogurt and granola
- Whole-grain crackers and hummus
- Blueberry smoothie
- Dark chocolate
Superfoods may have originated as a classification meant for marketing, but it has come to mean a group of specific foods packed with nutrients and antioxidants. In winter, older adults need to increase their consumption of some of these superfoods to improve their overall immunity, improve mood, and build resistance to infection and susceptibility to chronic illness.
- Foods. ‘Superfoods’: Reliability of the Information for Consumers Available on the Web.
- National Institute on Aging. Vitamins and Minerals for Older Adults.
- Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source: Vitamin D.
- National Council on Aging. The 8 Best Superfoods for Seniors.