Updated: Feb 26, 2022
Written by: Natalie Faella, MS, RDN, LDN | February 8, 2022
It's good to get a variety of nutrients all year long, but it can be helpful to boost our intake of a certain few in the winter. And since it sounds like the groundhog did indeed see his shadow last week, I thought it might be a helpful time for this post.
Here are 5 nutrients that may help make these next 6+ weeks of winter a little easier for your immune system and mood:
Our guts, or GI tracts, are pretty cool. (A sentence I never thought I'd write). Did you know that nearly 70% of our immune system lives in our guts and about 90% of our serotonin (feel-good hormone) is produced there as well? Two important reasons to think about what we can do to keep our guts healthy.
Probiotics are the "good" bacteria in our guts that help balance any "bad" bacteria and boost gut health and immunity. By including foods that contain probiotics in our diet, we can help to promote growth of this good bacteria. A diet rich in fibrous foods also helps our guts by promoting digestive health and providing prebiotics, which serve as food for probiotics to flourish.
Food Sources of Probiotics: Yogurt, Keifer, Sauerkraut, Kombucha, Tempeh, Kimchi, & Miso. If none of these sound like your favorite, you can consider probiotic supplements, too.
Prebiotics: Fruits, Vegetables, Legumes, & Whole Grains. Some specific examples: Asparagus, Leeks, Garlic, Bananas, & Beans.
This one probably doesn't come as a surprise, as we most often associate it with boosting our immune system. It’s especially important in the winter months when colds are more common. Vitamin C also has antioxidant properties and is needed for wound healing, iron absorption, skin health (i.e., collagen formation), and other functions in the body.
Since our bodies can’t make vitamin C, we need to obtain it from food or supplements. What great timing that winter is also when some of these foods, like citrus fruits, potatoes, and brussels sprouts, are in season, too!
Food Sources: Broccoli, Bell Peppers, Potatoes, Tomatoes, Brussels Sprouts, Oranges, Grapefruits, Berries, Kiwi, Lemons, & Limes
This one is not only important for our immune system, but our mental health as well. Getting enough vitamin D can be a helpful step in warding off those winter blues, as low levels have been linked to an increased risk for depression or worsening of depressive symptoms. And since we’re likely spending less time in the sun (which can be a large culprit of low mood on its own), we need to get vitamin D through the diet or supplements.
Food Sources: Mushrooms, Oily Fish (Salmon, Trout, Sardines, Tuna), Egg Yolks, Cod Liver Oil, Fortified Dairy, Juices, & Cereals
B vitamins play an important role in energy metabolism, meaning they help us utilize energy (i.e., calories) from the foods we eat. I don't know about you, but I need all the help with energy I can get on these shorter, darker days!
B vitamins are also involved with stress management and our mood. Vitamin B 12 and folate, specifically, play important roles as they help produce chemicals in the brain crucial for mood regulation. Low levels of vitamin B 12 and folate have also been linked to depression.
Food Sources of B vitamins: (Most foods!) Meats, Poultry, Fish, Eggs, Dairy, Beans, Nuts, Leafy Greens, Potatoes, Avocados, Fortified & Enriched Grains
Like vitamin C, zinc is an antioxidant and plays an important role in our immune system. In fact, a deficiency in this mineral is directly related to a decrease in immune system functioning. Zinc is also important for wound healing, skin and eye health, and decreasing inflammation.
Food Sources: Oysters, Beef, Crab, Lobster, Pork, Chicken, Beans, Chickpeas, Pumpkin Seeds, Nuts, & Milk
Other Nutrients Worth Mentioning
Omega-3 fatty acids are another key player in mood regulation and healthy skin and hair, which can be a concern with the harsh, cold, and dry winter air. Vitamin A is also worth noting for its antioxidant effects.
And don't forget water! We typically associate dehydration with those hot summer days, but can actually be at greater risk for dehydration in winter months. Think about it, when does your skin or hair feel most dry? With the lack of humidity and indoor forced hot air, it’s important to make sure we’re getting enough water to combat dehydration.
And while wine is not hydrating, it one of my essentials to make it through the winter months and worth noting as well.
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5. UCLA Health