Cooler temperatures, fewer daylight hours, and more time spent inside can all have a significant effect on when, how much, and even what we’re hungry for. It may be part of our biology, explains Laura Cipullo, RD, author of The Body Clock Diet, thanks to the winter months triggering biological changes that make us more inclined to eat more, and more energy-dense food.
But just because we’re more likely to get cravings to hunker down with mugs of hot chocolate and bottomless bowls of chili or cheesy pasta from late fall to spring doesn’t mean we necessarily need all those extra calories.
Here’s what Cipullo and others say everyone should know about how winter affects the food we want to eat and how to satisfy those cravings with the winter foods we actually should eat, so we can feel our best all winter long.
Winter May Actually Make You Hungrier
Are winter’s colder temperatures and fewer daylight hours, affect eating and food cravings? Some researchers suspect cool weather may trigger an evolutionary relic inside us to fatten up to survive tough environmental conditions, the way many other animals do. One study published the journal Nature found that participants did consume an average of 86 more calories per day in fall, compared with spring, and ate more fat and saturated fat in the winter months.
Another theory is that the change of season may change the balance of some of the hormones that control hunger and appetite. A review published in 2013 in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, which looked at data both in people and in animals, found that seasonal changes did affect many hormones related to hunger and appetite, including glucocorticoids, ghrelin, and leptin.
Fewer daylight hours may affect food cravings, too. Sunlight is one of the factors that triggers the release of the hormone serotonin, a neurotransmitter that has been shown to boost your mood significantly. Carbohydrate intake also increases serotonin levels and research suggests that people thus may crave carbohydrates as a way to improve mood, particularly in people with seasonal depression, who may have lower serotonin levels and mood because of reduced exposure to sunlight.
You Also Might Be More Likely to Crave Comfort Food During the Winter
Of course, just because we might be more likely to crave chocolate cake, croissants, and cheese in the winter months, doesn’t necessarily mean we should indulge those cravings with reckless abandon. And while you can indulge in moderation every once in a while, we can certainly choose to satisfy our appetites in healthier ways, too.
And on the days and nights in between, many of us are more likely to spend more time at home when outdoor activities are limited and we tend to want to just come home and stay in once the sun goes down and people tend to mindlessly snack
Winter Foods You Should Be Eating
"To satisfy both your body and mind, seek out comfort foods that fill your belly, warm you up, and make you feel good and are actually good for your health
- Citrus Fruits
- Brussels Sprouts
If you’re going to give in to a craving and most experts agree you occasionally should give in watch your portions and, whenever you can, make healthful swaps. If you’re dying for a bowl of pasta and cheese, for instance, switch out regular enriched pasta for a whole-grain option and add lean protein to the mix, along with a few vegetables for vitamins and fiber.
If it’s dessert you want, go for a steaming mug of hot dark chocolate, which has been shown to help reduce risk of heart disease, raise levels of healthy cholesterol, and be a mood booster.
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