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Lifestyles

Gratitude for the nourishing foods of early winter

Posted 11:00 a.m. Wednesday

As late fall and the Thanksgiving holiday pass and early winter arrives, it can feel like those days of fresh, flavorful fruits and vegetables are long in the past. For those living in colder climates, the end of the year can remind of us of hibernation season where the desire to move slows and the cravings for comfort foods grow.

Yet, it’s not necessary to sit and wait during the winter months for the return of warmer weather and healthier foods. There are a lot of ways to make winter eating and living more nourishing and enjoyable during this time of year.

Individuals already missing the days when local markets were abundant with seasonal, fresh produce might be surprised to find that there are a number of seasonal foods that are at their best during the late fall and early winter. These cold-weather foods can also have surprising nutritional benefits, including immune- and mood-boosting nutrients that can be helpful during the months ahead.

Some of the seasonal foods to enjoy include cold-weather foods like winter squash, leafy greens, cabbage and broccoli, onions, potatoes and yams, radishes, root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips or turnips and fruits such as cranberries.

Favorite winter veggies might include winter squashes as they’ve long played a role in history as a vegetable harvested in fall and stored through winter months. Varieties such as butternut, acorn, or even lesser-known types such as kabocha (a Japanese word for squash) offer nutrients like complex carbohydrates for sustained energy as well as vitamin A from beta-carotene that supports eye and skin health. The dark orange color of many squashes also provides a satisfying burst of color in seasonal winter meals such as warming soups, casseroles or even vegetable pies.

During the winter months, it's also helpful to focus on vitamin C rich foods that may help support immune function. Many winter squashes contain healthy doses of vitamin C along with other winter veggies such as broccoli. Broccoli is typically a year-round vegetable that is often considered to be at its most flavorful during the cold months and is packed with immune-supporting benefits. One cup of this green cruciferous veggie, for example, has more than the daily recommendation of vitamin C and offers potentially powerful plant phytochemicals that might even help to reduce the risk for some cancers. Cabbage is a related winter veggie with similar nutritional benefits and offers a healthy crunch when chopped raw for a colorful purple winter salad or provides sustenance as an ingredient in a hearty soup.

Eating regular, nutrient-rich meals containing fruits and vegetables and other whole foods during winter (and throughout the year) may also help with stress management and potentially even provide a boost to mood. It’s not only the types of foods, but also how and when they're eaten. Skipping meals can lead to being too hungry and potential for overeating. Consider stopping for a meal or snack break about every three to four hours or when beginning to notice signs of hunger such as lack of concentration or being easily irritated. This is something to consider on busy holiday days when tempted to run from an all-day shopping trip to a family event without truly sitting down to have a real meal.

Seasonal habits that contribute to regular time to slow down, connect and recharge can also be an important part of enjoying the remaining holidays and coming winter months. Consider creating mini-breaks to relax with a cup of tea or make homemade, yet simple meals with the family. While there are many healthy seasonal eating options available, it’s also OK to enjoy those favorite comfort foods from time to time too.

Healthy living this season goes beyond eating and may include a balance of other lifestyle activities too. With this in mind, consider beginning early winter with a practice of self-kindness as the flurry of the remaining holidays gets into full swing. It’s easy to forget as we focus on giving and gratitude for others that self-care during this time can be equally important.

One way to practice self-kindness is to consider an element of self-care that will make the most difference for individuals during the weeks ahead. For example, some may find that getting adequate sleep is a must-have routine to focus on, or others might choose to have nourishing snacks stocked up at home for when hunger strikes. Others might find that getting outside for a walk or other physical activity is one of the best gifts they can give themselves on those short winter days.

Regardless of how individuals choose to honor their health this winter, enjoying the gifts of the season including the bounty of nourishing foods and other activities available may contribute to thriving rather than just surviving the colder months ahead.

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