Cold Weather Food: Best Foods to Eat in Winter

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Winter just isn’t complete without warm sweaters, holiday lights, and your favorite comfort foods.

But what should you actually eat in winter if you want to stay healthy throughout the season? Let’s find out.

Cold weather nutrition principles

The basic principles of eating a balanced diet stay the same regardless of the season:

  • Try to eat at least five portions of vegetables and fruit every day
  • Opt for whole grains
  • Enjoy protein-rich meals
  • Avoid highly processed foods
  • Drink water rather than sugary drinks

Of course, there are days when following all of these principles would be unrealistic. However, doctors recommend you stick to these guidelines most of the time, including the winter months...

Do you need to eat more in cold weather?

Cold weather can surely make us want to eat more. There are different explanations for this. Some researchers believe that carb cravings in winter are largely caused by a lack of sunlight, while others suggest that seasonal changes somehow influence the balance of hormones that control hunger.

But do we really need those extra calories?

Our ancestors needed to eat more in order to survive in harsh winter conditions. But, unless you’re very physically active outdoors, you probably don’t need that extra portion of mac’n’cheese.

Here’s a tip: if you feel the urge to eat more in winter, opt for healthy foods rather than calorie-dense snacks and leftover Christmas candy. You’ll get all the nutrients you need without packing on unnecessary weight.

Healthy hot foods to eat in cold weather

Hot meals are a great way to stay warm, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t eat them in cold weather. Here are some healthy winter foods.

Soup

A bowl of soup provides you with the health benefits of protein, veggies, herbs, and spices all at once. Oh, and it’s delightfully hot — just what you need when you feel the winter chill in your bones.

A bowl of soup as one of the best foods to eat in winter

Since soups are so nutritious, they’re a great way to provide your body with vitamins and nutrients. And many of the spices and herbs typically contained in soups have proven health benefits. For example, turmeric can reduce inflammation and ginger can help your body fight off colds. Remember how Grandma told you to eat soup whenever you got a sore throat? Well, science shows that she had a point.

You can adapt most soup recipes to fit your preferences and nutritional needs. For example, you can add beans or lentils to your soup if you want to increase your protein intake. And if you’re feeling courageous, go ahead and experiment with different spices. You’ll discover new flavors and provide your body with valuable antioxidants.

Whole grains

Whole grains come in all shapes and sizes: oatmeal, whole-grain bread and pasta, buckwheat, brown rice, and so on. All of them are packed with vitamins and nutrients that will help you stay healthy throughout the year.

Whole grains form the foundation of many delicious hot meals.

A bowl of oatmeal in the morning will keep you warm and energized until lunchtime, and freshly baked whole-grain cupcakes are just what you need for a cozy evening. You can also make your favorite pasta dishes with whole grains — while they’ll taste a little different, you’re sure to enjoy the enhanced flavor!

Whole grains will help you stay warm for longer because they take a while to digest. During the long digestion process, your body enjoys a steady stream of energy and nutrients.

Root vegetables

Finding fresh veggies in winter can be a daunting task. However, root vegetables like carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes are easy to buy throughout the year and you can use them to make a wide variety of healthy winter meals.

For example, baked potatoes aren’t just an excellent comfort food — they’re also rich in antioxidants and nutrients. And they don’t have as many calories as many people think — as long as you don’t overdo it with crazy amounts of butter, cheese, sour cream or other fat sources, potatoes can be a valuable part of a healthy diet. You can also bake or roast them with low-carb root veggies like carrots or celery roots.

Fish, eggs, and meat

In the summer, your body can produce its own vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. But what about the cold, dark winter months?

Your body needs vitamin D to fight off diseases and maintain strong bones. And since you can’t just go sunbathing on a frosty winter day, you have to rely on other sources.

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Vitamin D can be found in animal products like fish, eggs, and red meat. So if you’re OK with eating these foods, go ahead and enjoy them (in moderation, of course).

If you prefer a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, you can opt for plant-based foods that have been fortified with vitamin D.

But in any case, it’s a good idea to get your vitamin D levels checked regularly. If there’s a deficiency, your doctor will suggest the right supplement for you.

Best cold foods to eat in cold weather

Who needs cold foods when it’s freezing outside? Well, not everyone has the time to prepare warm meals, and some people just don’t appreciate the idea of eating soup and baked veggies all the time.

Ice cream and popsicles

While ice cream isn’t the healthiest option out there, it’s a satisfying comfort food that many people enjoy. So… why not try it in winter?

You can make ice cream-based desserts with baked fruits or serve ice cream alongside freshly baked cakes. Chefs do it all the time, so why shouldn’t you?

If you’re all for fruity flavors, just go ahead and grab a popsicle. You’ll get some nutrients from the fruit and simply eat something that makes you happier. Just don’t overdo it.

And if you’ve got a sore throat, both ice cream and popsicles can soothe the pain because of their cold, smooth texture.

Colorful salads

Experts recommend that every meal should contain fruit or veggies in at least two or three different colors. Eating colorful meals doesn’t just feel good — it also ensures that you get a wide variety of nutrients.

Fresh salads as an example of cold foods to eat in winter

But how do you make a colorful salad in the winter when so many vegetables and fruit are out of season?

Well, just take what’s available and mix it! Some great ingredients for winter salads include:

  • Cabbage
  • Berries
  • Apples
  • Beets
  • Celery
  • Citrus fruit
  • Walnuts
  • Onions

You can look for inspiration online or just go ahead and experiment with different seasonal ingredients.

Foods to avoid in cold weather

Is there anything you should avoid in cold weather? While most foods are good if eaten in moderation, it’s still best to stay away from certain dishes (and drinks).

Alcohol

But doesn’t alcohol make you feel warmer?

Well, it does, but it’s not the kind of warmth you get after eating a bowl of soup. Alcohol widens the blood vessels near your skin. This increased blood flow makes you feel warmer for a while, but it also makes your body’s core temperature drop.

This can be especially dangerous if you intend to go outside in cold weather.

While a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve won’t do serious harm to most people, it’s still best to keep alcohol consumption to a minimum in cold weather.

Fatty and sugary comfort foods

Cold weather makes us crave comfort foods. For some people, this means sugary snacks or pizza with bacon and extra cheese.

Of course, you shouldn’t wallow in guilt for ordering an exceptionally fatty pizza once in a while. But it’s not a good idea to load up on sugar and fats on a regular basis because you’d eat too many calories and too few nutrients.

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If you’re not sure whether your nutrition is on track, talk to a medical professional. They’ll evaluate your health and provide valuable nutrition advice that’s tailored to your body and your situation.

Key takeaways

Cold weather might make us crave sugar and fat, but the best winter foods are actually based on vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and various protein sources. They provide you with the energy you need to keep warm and the micronutrients you need to stay healthy.

It’s true that many veggies and fruit are unavailable in winter, but you can create delicious meals using seasonal ingredients. Feel free to experiment and don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian if you need personalized nutrition tips!

August 19, 2022