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By Nutrition team

Saturday, November 20, 2010.

With the temperatures heading towards minus figures, beware of the winter doldrums - scaling back your exercise as you scale up your eating. The inevitable result - extra pounds - may be more than you bargained for!

Many of us gain a pound per winter. And while this may not sound like a lot, those who gain during the coldest months typically keep the extra weight on and add more over time. Over the long run, this helps explain why our weight tends to creep up as we age, despite an active lifestyle.

Several factors are to blame: Shorter days and longer nights induce feelings of depression, fatigue and cravings for sweets and starches. Cold and stormy weather makes it difficult to exercise outdoors. Even driving to the gym can seem like too much some days. Add the holiday meals into the equation and it’s no wonder so many of us gain weight over winter.

But prevention is always better than cure, so why not follow these tips to make sure you’re not still hiding under woolly jumpers in spring!

Plan to Eat Right
Eat regular meals. If skipping meals is the strategy you employ to try and ward off winter weight gain, think again. Starving yourself during the day inevitably leads to "feasting" or overeating at night. Anytime you allow yourself to get too hungry, it's easy to overindulge. How many times have you eaten half a packet of biscuits while trying to decide what to have for dinner? Choose to have breakfast, make time for lunch and sit down for dinner. If you never let yourself feel ‘starving’ then you’re the one in control.

Get a little more protein. One of the easiest and best ways to curb cravings is to increase your protein intake.

Increase fibre in your diet to between 25 and 30 grams per day. Why? Because fibre fills you up without filling you out. Dietary fibre has zero calories. It also maintains and promotes bowel regularity. Fibre delays the return of hunger and a meal high in fibre sustains blood-sugar levels longer than a low-fibre meal. People who consume diets high in fibre have a lower incidence of colon cancer, and it can help reduce serum cholesterol.



Get Some Light
Many people experience mild to moderate winter depression. Severe winter depression, known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is marked by depressed mood, sleeping more than usual, increased appetite, cravings for sweets and carbohydrates and weight gain. If depression is a problem for you, talk to your doctor - they may recommend some form of light therapy, which relieves winter depression in many people.

Too little sunlight can trigger cravings for high calorie foods and fatty carbohydrates like cakes, biscuits and even ice cream. Animals react to the changing season with changes in mood and behaviour, and human beings are no exception.

Most people find they eat and sleep slightly more in winter and dislike the dark mornings and short days. This is because diminished sunlight in winter reduces the brain’s production of serotonin, the mood boosting brain chemical that helps suppress food cravings and overeating. Reduced levels of serotonin are involved in depression.

Being exposed to an hour of indirect outdoor light daily can help ward off the winter blues. Don't forget that exercise can be an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression. People who experience winter depression can try combining exercise and light therapy by exercising outdoors when time and weather permit.

Make Friends with Winter
Winter often causes a decline in physical activity, as shorter days and inclement weather can limit exercise options. If winter weather creates exercise barriers for you, take a closer look at those obstacles and come up with some creative solutions. If early darkness forces you off the streets, how about some indoor options? Check out gyms, leisure or community centres or exercise videos to help you move your exercise routine indoors.

Eat Yourself Healthy!
Despite the huge number of cold and flu remedies, immune boosters and stay-well supplements, one sure-fire way to boost your immunity this winter is through healthy eating:

Vitamin C This cold-fighting antioxidant increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies and increases levels of interferon, which is the antibody that coats cell surfaces, thereby preventing the entry of viruses. The best way to get it is through oranges, strawberries, blackcurrants and other fruit – not pills.

Vitamin E This antioxidant stimulates the production of natural killer cells and B-cells that destroy nasty germs and bacteria. This protection for the immune system is especially important in the elderly, whose immune function is reduced.

Food sources include plant oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables and wheat germ, although a supplement is especially important for the elderly and other populations with lowered immunity.

Zinc While some studies have shown that the zinc lozenges can lower the incidence and severity of infections, other studies have failed to show this. More than 75 milligrams a day can actually inhibit immune function. Good zinc sources are oysters or fortified cereal.

Hot Foods Spice things up with chilli, hot mustard, pepper, onions and garlic. Such foods contain substances called “mucolytics,” which help ease congestion in the sinuses.

Chicken Soup The so-called “Jewish penicillin” is apparently more than a bowl of TLC and soothing hot vapours. One study showed that there are anti-inflammatory properties in the soup that stopped the movement of neutrophils, which stimulates the release of mucous. Just a little food for thought when you’re choosing your comfort food.


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