Keeping warm in winter

2014-06-20 00:00

WHY is it that the lower temperatures drop, the higher our appetites soar? Mugs of hot chocolate and bowls of steaming soup are so much more appealing than jugs of iced water and cold salads.

When the outside temperature drops, the body responds by increasing its heat production. Our body’s systems work optimally at a constant, regulated core temperature — so when winter chills set in, the body works overtime to regulate the thermostat. In order to produce heat, the body consumes energy — in other words, it uses up more food.

People with very low fat stores tend to feel the cold more. Fat insulates our organs and serves to keep us warm in the colder months. The thinner the insulation layers, the less protection there is against the cold. Hence, people with higher fat stores are better insulated, and ideally these stores should be utilised in providing the extra heat required.

Having said that, the “ideal” isn’t always reality. Instead of the body efficiently using up available stores, the brain often sends out increased appetite signals to get us to eat more, and therefore provide quicker access to fuel stores. Here are some tips for healthier winter eating.

• Eat hot meals

A warm bowl of chicken and vegetable soup tends to satisfy the appetite much more than a cold bowl of smoked-chicken salad — and it’s still packed full of veggies. You may find that reheating leftovers for lunch helps you through the afternoon more successfully than a cold sandwich. If fresh (and often cold) fruit doesn’t appeal, try stewing fresh apples with some cinnamon sugar and add dates for a tasty change.

Of course, adding chillies and spices to your meals will heat them (and you) up too.

• Don’t forget the fluids

During the winter months, most of us find it more difficult to drink water — even tap water can be icy. Try increasing hot drinks such as rooibos and herbal teas, or simply enjoy a mug of hot water with added lemon slices or fresh ginger shavings. What we interpret as hunger is very often thirst. By ensuring your tummy gets its fill of fluid, your appetite will be more easily controlled.

• Stock-piling starches isn’t the solution

Comforting starchy foods such as potatoes, breads, pastas, dumplings and pastries, are often thought to be the most satisfying and filling foods. We tend to pile on extra mashed potato or indulge in an oversized Chelsea bun when feeling ravenous. It’s interesting to note that proteins such as meat, chicken, eggs, milk and legumes have higher satiating value — in other words keep you full for longer. Cooked vegetables also go a long way to making your meal more filling, so load up with roasted and steamed vegetables to your heart’s content.

The moral of the story — if your body already has extra insulation (in other words, extra fat stores) available, don’t believe everything your appetite tells you. If your insulation is on the light side, fill up on an extra bowl of steaming soup.

• Sharon Hultzer is a consulting

dietitian. She can be reached at

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