Getting the winter blues? With less daylight and colder temperatures, it’s easy to do. But don’t let the season get you down or make you put your health on hold. More than ever, start paying attention to what foods you’re putting into your body. Fueling your body properly is always a step in the right direction, making you feel and look better.

To start, you simply need to follow a well-balanced diet, as if it were any other time of year. Watch your portion sizes, don’t skip meals, and concentrate on getting nutrient-dense—rather than calorie-dense—foods. But during these dreary months, certain nutrients might seem harder to come by than they might be in the warmth of summer. But in reality, no matter what the time of year, nutritious foods are always available in abundance.

Here are some of my top picks for this time of year.

Citrus Fruit. Personally, I can’t get enough of oranges, grapefruits, and clementines, so rich in vitamin C. Even though scientific research doesn’t support the claim that it actually prevents the common cold, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can help boost your immune-system function—and at any time of year, that’s a bonus. A clementine is easy to peel, very portable, and has only 35 calories each. I tend to buy my oranges and grapefruits already peeled in to-go containers—a little more expensive, but for me, worth the price, since I love eating but hate peeling them.   Potatoes. Surprised? They always seem to get a bad rap, and for the life of me I never know why. Like citrus, potatoes are rich in vitamin C and offer similar benefits.  They’re also a great source of potassium and fiber. And during the winter months, when we tend to feel sluggish, carbohydrates can help provide the energy we need. Minus the usual butter and cream or deep frying, potatoes can be a nutrition powerhouse. I like mine baked and topped with black bean hummus and low-fat sour cream.  

Perfect for risotto, for example.

Canned Salmon and Sardines. It’s funny—as a child I loved sardines, but as an adult I don’t have a taste for them. Regardless, I can’t help but mention them as a winter food must. The less daylight we have, the less sunshine too, and less opportunity to catch a dose of vitamin D. Salmon and sardines are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, which help prevent heart disease, but more important, they (along with milk) are among the very few foods that provide a good source of vitamin D during the winter months.

Vitamin D promotes bone health, which may provide protection from osteoporosis. And we need to keep our bones in good shape now, especially if we tend to be more active in the spring. Brussels Sprouts. Why do so many people hate them? My husband won’t eat them, and they seem to be at the very top of my patients’ “I don’t eat” list. And yet I can’t get enough of them. My favorite preparation is simply steaming them (I know: boring), but they can be roasted or sautéed in olive oil with herbs and spices, or shredded raw into salads. Just like potatoes and citrus fruit, Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of vitamin C, and fiber, which can help lower cholesterol. A one-cup serving, steamed, is only 56 calories—adding to your nutritional status but not your waistline.   Water. Keeping your body well hydrated can help prevent dry skin, which is so easy to develop this time of year—with dry heat indoors and cold temperatures and winds outdoors, our skin can take a beating. Luckily, water is always available as our first line of defense. If you don’t enjoy the taste of plain water, try seltzer or club soda with lemon, lime, or a splash of 100% fruit juice. If you prefer a hot beverage, try decaffeinated teas or coffee (without a ton of sugar and cream), or even low-sodium, low-calorie soups. The most important thing is to remember to drink up, even though your body might not be telling you it’s thirsty.

To find out what’s in-season locally (and hopefully available at year-round farmer’s markets), check the website Sustainable Table or the list at Fruits And Veggies – More Matters.

So, let’s all eat well this winter. Good, nutritious food is available—we just have to go to the store and make the right choices. The dark days of winter can give anyone the blues, but if you’re taking good care of yourself, they’re much easier to endure. And spring seems to come that much sooner.

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  • Chris Lombardi January 3, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    OK I just went to Sustainable Table, and if I eat locally, I get nothing but lettuce and turnips till _May._ Even Ben Franklin must have imported some stuff beside his wine.

  • hillsmom January 3, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Brussels (neither do I) sprouts are very good IMHO if you get the frozen “steam in bag”, but only do about half way. Then cut in half and finish by pan sauteing in a little olive oil.

    I did read recently a bit about some people either lacking or having too much of some, was it enzyme?, which made vegetables from the cabbage family taste bitter…?

    Ha! I’m probably the only Mother who calls her daughter for advice on cooking…;^) Cheers…

  • RozWarren January 3, 2012 at 8:19 am

    i LOVE brussles sprouts! (Although according to spell check, I apparently don’t know how to spell them.)