The Friendlies Physiotherapy Service dietitian Alessandra Winfield has some great advice on how to stay healthy and avoid those extra winter kilos.
As the weather gets cooler, we tend to eat more food.
Psychologically, when winter arrives and we feel a bit cold, we tend to choose foods that are warming and comforting. So we ditch the salads and eat more hot foods that most likely contain a higher calorie level.
With days that are shorter, we also tend to exercise a little less than we did in the summer months.
Less exposure to sunlight has the potential to lead to depressive moods which also contributes comfort food eating.
These are some of the reasons people gain extra kilos over the winter months. Here are some things you can do to help you manage your hunger levels and weight over winter:
1. Get some sunshine in the day and then a good night’s sleep
Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. This is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused, and less likely to lead to eating comfort food to boost their mood.
At night, darker lighting cues the brain to make another hormone called melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping a person feel sleepy and fall asleep.
Research is finding links between how long we sleep and the functioning of our ‘hunger hormones’, leptin (which suppresses appetite) and grehlin (which stimulates appetite).
One study, which included more than 1000 people, found that habitually sleeping for fewer than 7 hours and 45 minutes was associated with reduced leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels and a higher BMI – which can all lead to overeating.
A clear message seems to be emerging: get a good night’s sleep and your body will self-regulate its levels of hunger.
2. Eat nuts
We’ve heard many times before that nuts are good for us – they’re high in fibre and protein, and have been shown to increase satiety (feeling full) hormones, which makes them great for appetite control.
But now studies have shown that there’s actually a link between increasing nut consumption, and decreasing body mass index (BMI).
It’s believed that some of the fat contained in nuts becomes trapped within the nut’s fibrous structure, so it isn’t actually absorbed by your body, but excreted.
And even though you don’t absorb all the fat, you still absorb the vital nutrients your body needs. Add a handful of unsalted nuts to your diet in place of unhealthy, high-fat snacks.
3. Eat soup as an entrée
Several studies have found that eating soup as an entree decreases hunger, increases fullness and reduces kilojoule intake at the subsequent meal.
In fact, a 2008 US study found that eating soup 30 minutes before eating lunch resulted in a 20 per cent decrease in the amount of kilojoules eaten at lunch.
And it doesn’t matter whether the soup is chunky or pureed; they both have the same effect on kilojoule intake at the next course.
4. Eat Small Amounts of Filling Food at Every Meal
Research has shown that protein is more satisfying than fat or carbohydrate, both at meal time and in the hours following your meal. Meals containing protein also increase diet-induced thermogenesis (the energy used by your body to eat, digest and metabolise food), which subsequently increases satiety and reduces kilojoule intake.
Here are some protein ideas:
• Fish, lean beef/lamb/pork and skinless chicken are great choices, but one Australian study found fish to be more satisfying than other meats.
• Milk and yoghurt. Watch the amount of sugar in yoghurts and keep it below 10g per serve.
• Legumes like baked beans, four-bean mix, chick peas, hummus, and kidney beans.
Researchers have found that while a high-fibre meal doesn’t necessarily affect how much we eat immediately, it does seem to reduce how much we eat at the next meal because we’re not as hungry.
Meals high in fibre take time and energy to chew, while adding bulk and viscosity, which slows digestion of meals.
Here are some simple ways to get more fibre:
• Add a high-fibre cereal (like Allbran, Guardian, or oats) to your breakfast. Mix it with your current cereal if you prefer.
• Try psyllium – a soluble fibre that you can add to cereal or smoothies
• Use wholegrain breads, rice and pasta.
• Add legumes to salads, stews and pasta.
• Use hummus on your bread and crackers, instead of butter or other dips.
• Eat 2½ cups of vegetables each day (keep the skin on, where possible and try not to over-cook them)
• Eat 2 fruits per day
We all need some fat in our diet and it all depends of the type of fat we eat. The unhealthy fats like saturated and trans fats are found in processed foods, animal fats, and palm oil.
Saturated fats still play a role in our health but eating too much or having a higher ratio of these over the good fats, is when it can affect our health.
The unsaturated fats found in plant oils, fish oils, nuts, avocado and olives have been found to stimulate a hormone, cholecystokinin, which helps us feel full for longer.
• Include a small amount of seeds and nuts each day
• Drizzle a little canola, olive or rice bran oil over salads or vegetables.
• Add 2 serves of oily fish per week to your diet like salmon, tuna, sardines or mackerel.
High glycaemic index (GI) foods give a sharp peak to our blood glucose with a trough afterwards triggering hunger.
Foods with a lower GI are digested more slowly and give a more steady release of glucose into the blood stream, so they don’t trigger hunger in the same way.
A recent Australian study found that when obese people replaced a high-GI meal with a low-GI meal at breakfast, they reported higher levels of satiety before lunch, even when the kilojoule content of the breakfasts were the same.
Add low-GI foods such as milk, yoghurt, wholegrain bread, oats, sweet potatoes, apple, orange, and/or legumes at each meal and snack.
5. Stay Active
Keeping active over the winter months is so important for weight control and general well-being.
Keeping muscles active will help keep your metabolism active, which makes it easier to manage your weight.
Keeping active also influences your serotonin levels, which is the hormones that regulates mood, when your mood is stable then you are less likely to seek comfort food.