Come winter and the palate yearns for filling and nutritious Indian foods that warm the stomach and the soul. Gajar ka halwa, sarson ka saag, Thukpa, Undhiyu are all desi food specialities cooked and consumed in winter. Eating certain Indian winter foods like garlic, Jowar, Bajra, til (sesame seeds) is recommended. But what’s the right kind of food your body needs during winter?

TC46 connected with Clinical Nutritionist Dr Shweta Mahadik at Fortis Hospital in Mumbai. Here, she talks about the benefits of altering your diet in winter, macro-nutrient rich foods you should consume, and special meal recommendations for women.

1. What are macronutrients and how do they help your body?

Macronutrients are the nutrients that are needed in large quantities for normal growth and development. Macronutrients are the body’s main source of calories to fuel life processes.

Macronutrients consist of:

1. Carbohydrates give 4 kcals. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy. Glucose is used by all the tissues and cells in our body for energy. Carbohydrates are needed for the central nervous system, the kidneys, the brain, and the muscles to function properly. Carbohydrates can be stored in the muscles and Liver, and later used as a source of energy. Carbohydrates are important in intestinal health and waste elimination.

2. Protein gives 4 kcals. Proteins are the building blocks of human and animal structure. Proteins serve countless functions in the human body, including the following – formation of the brain, nervous system, blood, muscle, skin and hair; transport mechanism for Iron, Vitamins, Minerals, Fats and Oxygen, Proteins are key to acid–base and fluid balance.

3. Fat gives 9 kcals. Fats serve many functions in the human body, including insulation, cell structure, nerve transmission, vitamin absorption, and hormone production.      

2.  What are the benefits of macronutrients for women during the cold weather?

High carbohydrate diets are beneficial during cold weather. The advantage of a high carbohydrate diet is that the Respiratory Quotient (RQ) of carbohydrate diet is around 1.0 and this gives rise to the increase in arterial oxygen saturation. Carbohydrates provide a higher yield of energy per mole of oxygen. A diet high in carbs is shown to enhance glucose metabolism.

3. How does the cold weather affect your metabolism, weight, skin, hair and more?

Woman standing on a scale

It is necessary to maintain adequate consumption of food in cold environments, especially under physically active conditions. There is a widespread perception that cold weather conditions contribute to an increased appetite. The evidence for this hypothesis is derived from changes in body weight. However, the reported increase in appetite is also associated with changes in other aspects of the subject’s environment such as increased activity levels, energy expenditure due to thermogenesis, social isolation and modification in the diet.

The body possesses mechanisms to help maintain core temperature during cold exposure and to reduce heat loss, as well as to restore heat that has been lost. This mechanism is called ‘thermoregulation’. Heat production occurs as the result of voluntary muscular work, by involuntary shivering. The increase in oxygen uptake during shivering thermogenesis is also accompanied by an increase in cardiac output.

Differences in body composition also may play a role, with the higher content of body fat in women and their smaller body surface areas providing some degree of protection from heat loss.

4. What are some proteins to include in your diet during the cold seasons?

Include high-quality proteins in your diet, for example: 

  • Egg
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Milk and milk products
  • Nuts and oilseeds
  • Soya

Fish

It is an excellent source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Vitamins such as D & B2 (riboflavin). Fish is rich in Calcium and Phosphorus and is a great source of minerals, such as Iron, Zinc, Iodine, Magnesium, and Potassium. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week as part of a healthy diet, as it helps in repairing tissues and formulate essential amino acids in our body. Fish are generally low in cholesterol and saturated fats which have been associated with Heart Disease. Some studies have indicated that these fatty acids have favourable effects on health conditions such as hardening of the arteries and high cholesterol.

Eggs

Eggs are not only rich in proteins but are also known to have a rich content of Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Zinc, Iron, Selenium and Vitamin A. Daily intake of eggs in your diet strengthens your immune system to fight with the viral infection.

Nuts & Oilseeds

In this period, eating nuts like Peanuts, Walnuts, Chestnuts, Hazelnuts and Almonds is good for one’s body. In winter, because of the cold weather, it is not easy for people to suffer from internal heat. Moreover, most nuts have the function of nourishing the kidneys and strengthening the brain and heart. Therefore include 30gms nuts in your daily routine diet.

5. Do carbohydrates keep you warm? Which carbohydrate-rich foods can you consume in the cold weather?

There is evidence suggesting that carbohydrates are more important than fat in fueling metabolic heat production during cold exposure. Some researchers studied the contribution of Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat to energy expenditure during 2hr exposure to warm (29ºc) or cold (2ºc) environments. The cold exposure increased the expenditure of energy almost 2-5 times more than that found in the subjects in a warm environment. This increase in energy expenditure resulted in an increase in Carbohydrate Oxidation by 5.9 folds and 63% in Fat Oxidation. Protein Oxidation was unaffected.

These results demonstrate that cold exposure causes a much greater increase in oxidation of carbohydrates than lipids. Thus, ingestion of carbohydrate-rich food can improve cold tolerance in humans (Vallerand et al. 1989).

Some of the best options for complex carbs include whole-grain cereals, brown rice, legumes, millet and whole oats, barley, quinoa, vegetables and fruits.

6. Does cold weather help burn fat? Which fatty food items should you eat during this season?

The answer is yes. Humans have two types of fat; white fat and brown fat. White fat stores extra energy. Too much white fat contributes to Obesity, increases the risk of Type 2 Diabetes and many other diseases. Whereas, Brown fat, burns chemical energy to create heat and help maintain body temperature. NIH study showed that, after a month of exposure to cold weather, the participants had a 42% increase in brown fat volume and a 10% increase in fat metabolic activity. It was accompanied by improved insulin sensitivity. Prolonged exposure to cold weather results in significant changes in metabolic hormones such as Leptin and Adiponectin.

The results suggest that humans may acclimate to cool temperature by increasing brown fat, which in turn may lead to improvements in glucose metabolism. It was followed by increased sensitivity to Insulin.

Fatty food items to consume during winter are: 

  • Nuts & oily seeds
  • Methi ladoo
  • Dink ladoo
  • Fatty fish
  • Til ladoo
  • Til chutney
  • Flaxseeds chutney
  • Groundnut chikki
  • Wheat sheera

7. Could you share 10 food items that are a must for women during the cold months?

Winter salad with apple, pumpkin, cranberries, honey and seeds in a white plate.
  • Halim ladoo
  • Mix dry fruits ladoo
  • Methi ladoo
  • Groundnut chikki
  • Wheat sheera
  • Til ladoo
  • Til chikki
  • Black dates roll
  • Khus khus kheer
  • Mukhwas (Ajwain + Fennel Seeds + Flax-Seeds + Coriander Seeds + Sesame seeds)

8. What are some foods to avoid during Autumn and Winter?

Sugary foods like cakes, pastries, doughnuts, cream rolls should be avoided. According to a study conducted by the researchers at the University of Kansas (KU) found that winter season is all about dwindling daylight and changes in the sleep patterns. And if you indulge in sugar confectioneries during this time, then it can lead to a ‘perfect storm’ that adversely impacts mental health. A diet high in refined carbs, including sugary foods, increases the risk of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and inflammation.

Also to avoid, aerated drinks like sodas. Many studies found an association of soft drink intake with increased energy intake and body weight. Soft drink intake also was associated with lower intakes of milk, calcium, and other nutrients and with an increased risk of diseases like obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, liver diseases and more.

Fried foods like vada, samosa, bhajiyas, fried chicken, French fries, Chinese food should also be avoided. Fried foods are crunchy, crispy, and delicious, but eating them too much could shave years off your life. Many studies found that more frequent consumption of fried food items is associated with an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart failure, obesity and hypertension.