Why do we feel hungrier in Winter?
It’s very common to feel hungrier at this time of year and there are very good reasons as to why. The colder weather leads to a drop in our body temperature, which means our appetites get stimulated as a result. This is because eating helps to generate internal heat, subsequently leading to a rise in body temperature. During winter, the body works harder and spends more energy just trying to keep you warm, so your desire to eat more comes from your body’s natural increase in energy use.
However, there is no need to use this as an excuse to overeat! There are other effective ways to keep warm, such as wearing extra layers of clothing or exercising, which you will probably agree is preferable to an extra layer of fat from eating too much. Unlike us, our ancestors needed a significant quantity of fat to survive through the winter until Spring. We don’t need the extra fat, but scientists believe we have nevertheless inherited those genes.
WHAT FOODS CAN SATISFY OUR WINTER CRAVINGS?
It is often carbohydrates that we crave most during winter with research showing that people with cravings get a great proportion of their foods from refined carbohydrates (white bread, cakes, biscuits) and sugar. This can obviously have an adverse effect on weight gain with data supporting the fact that cravers have a higher body mass index than non-cravers. These types of carbohydrates offer a quick fix of energy, but can lead to a vicious cycle, as they boost blood sugar levels too high which then results in a crash and a craving for another “fix” from yet more refined carbohydrates or sugary snacks. As well as leading to weight gain, these food choices are devoid of decent nutrients needed to maintain our health through the winter, a time when we often have to deal with the onslaught of the colds and viruses surrounding us as we go about our daily lives.
So how do we deal with these cravings? Eating regular meals and snacks containing protein and fibre are very important. These leave us feeling satisfied and our blood sugar levels stable and therefore we have less desire for unhealthy unrefined carbs and sugary snacks. A good example of a snack could be a few unsalted nuts and some fruit or an oatcake with some houmous – these should successfully keep you satisfied until your next meal.
As well as healthy snacking, our choice of main meals during the winter is important. Eating seasonally makes sense because, as well as saving on the air miles needed for out of season strawberries or asparagus, eating hearty winter foods (see below) are both warming and satisfying, leaving you feeling full and without cravings. Research has shown that even in our modern world with its heating and lighting, seasonal eating still has a major influence on satiety mechanisms in the body, just as it did for our ancestors.
It seems certain foods suit each season. The Chinese believe that in winter we should focus on foods that build up our kidney energy. These are foods such as cabbage, carrots, chestnuts, rice, seeds and spices. Eastern and western nutritional experts alike usually believe there is certainly a place for warming herbs and seasoning during the winter months. These include ginger, cinnamon, cloves, mustard, nutmeg, pepper and oregano, so perhaps try to use these where you can. It is believed these foods serve an important function in our bodies by helping the blood circulation.
WHY WE WANT HOT FOOD IN WINTER
As I have explained, eating helps to raise the body temperature, so therefore it makes sense that eating hot food will raise it faster and more effectively. Porridge is a great choice for a warming breakfast, perhaps with some stewed apples and cinnamon – delicious, nutritious and satisfying. Lunch could be a warming bowl of soup with plenty of seasonal vegetables, such as carrots, onions, butternut squash, with some lentils, beans or chicken for protein. In the evening a hearty stew with lean meat, vegetables, such as cabbage would be an ideal choice. Because all these meal ideas are filling, it should be easier to control your portion sizes too.