BY Molly Congdon
CLIFTON PARK— Everyone wants to eat healthy, but between hectic schedules, tantalizing junk food and going the easy route of ordering fast food, it can be difficult to provide our bodies with the necessary nutrients.
This is especially true in the winter when you feel as though you’ve been dragging since you opened your eyes in the morning. Do you really feel like cooking up a salubrious meal or do you find yourself reaching for the phone to get a cheesy pizza or some salty, bloat-inducing Chinese food? The struggle is real for many of us.
Psychotherapist and dietician Karen Anderson has been providing one-on-one counseling for nutrition therapy in her private practice in Clifton Park for the past 17 years. She has some tips to get you and your body through the winter.
Have Your Own Plan
“It’s important for people’s nutrition to be individualized to them and their physical needs and lifestyle considerations; that’s number one, that’s foundational,” Anderson said. “If you’re going to build a healthy lifestyle with food, it’s not one size fits all.”
“This is the time of year we enter when a lot of us get sick, sometimes chronically, during cold winter months, and even though nutrition isn’t a cure or a guaranteed prevention, it does build resistance,” Anderson said. “There are certain foods, regardless of individual differences that usually help the body to resist infection. Those foods, if eaten on a regular basis, would include fruits and vegetables.”
Buying them fresh is the best way to go, but during the winter there are other options. One is to buy them fresh in the fall, freeze them and bring them out in the winter. However, if you didn’t plan ahead in time there are other alternatives. “Salsa is vegetable and canned tomatoes are readily available and you can do the basis of soups and stews,” Anderson said. “Fruits you can also get dried, and that’s a nice source of vitamins and minerals and they are a lot more accessible.”
Green tea has lots of antioxidant properties, which protect our cells. “Vitamin D is a big one — most of us living in the Northeast need to take supplemental D in order to keep our levels up,” Anderson said. “D is a hormone as well as a vitamin; it’s an immune system modulator, which means that it gets into all of the cells and protects them. So if our levels go low, it’s not just about our bones, it’s about our immune system generally.”
Slow Cook/Plan Ahead
“In the winter we tend to want things that are warm — fast, hot meals for cold, chilly days,” she said. “If you have a few recipes including whole grains, lean protein, put them in a pot and cook them all day. It’s easy and you’ve planned ahead and that normally fits people’s lifestyles.” So instead of getting home from work and trying to figure out what to make on the spot, your meal is already warm and waiting for you to consume it. “January is the month of resolutions and for most people that involves physical fitness. But as my personal trainer says, abs are made in the kitchen.”
Realistic: “If you’re going to set a huge goal, make sure you break that goal down into smaller sub goals because they are more attainable immediately,” Anderson said.
Active: “It’s freezing outside so find a mall, get a kettle bell or a piece of equipment,” Anderson said. “It’s so important to move; it regulates our appetite as well as our mood, which for most people tends to go south for the winter.”
Watchful: “This should not be done in a critical way, but to be mindful,” Anderson said.” If we are trying to make changes then we should have some kind of a tracking device to encourage us like a Nike Fuelband or a even a journal.
“A lot of us don’t get thirsty over the winter, but the air is actually drier than it is in the summer, plus the heat in our homes is drying as well,” Anderson said. “You have to keep up with hydration. It’s so important for so many reasons: the metabolism of our food, maintaining proper digestion, appearance of hair, skin and nails and to help us absorb vitamins that are water-soluble.” Water, similar to food, is also individualized, and the amount you should be drinking depends on your activity level. There are also some water-rich foods to ease the burden of consuming several glasses of water each day such as citrus, lettuce and dairy products other than cheese.
Use Food Safety
“We are in this season of flu and sometimes it’s about our food and not about a bug,” Anderson said. “It’s important to understand, the more gastrointestinal symptoms people have, you should think about if it is food related.” Another tip: Don’t let perishable groceries sit in the car for too long. The car may not be as cold as the refrigerator, leading to spoilage. Finally, “you also have to make sure that you’re heating and reheating foods to a high enough temperature.”