As the cold, wet and gloomy winter months’ approach, It’s essential we fuel our bodies with nutrient dense foods from a balanced diet. Winter is a prime time to catch a cold or flu, and food is a great way to combat such illnesses; in fact, superfoods can strengthen your immune system, increase your energy and enhance your mood, all of which are essential to getting you through what can be some of the more depressing months of the year.
But what exactly is a superfood? To be perfectly honest, I look at all natural and healthy foods that can benefit our bodies as superfoods; the key here is balance, getting a variety of food sources that can provide us with our RDA (recommended dietary allowance) of nutrients. If you get a good variety of macro and micronutrient based food sources in your diets, then you will reap countless health benefits; in fact, some foods you probably wouldn’t even consider a superfood actually have more health benefits than you would have thought.
As daylight begins to fade as we enter the Winter months, a lack of sunshine can lead to SAD (seasonal affective disorder) as well as a lack of Vitamin D which can result in depression, energy loss and in extreme circumstances, rickets. Therefore, it is essential to consume plenty of Vitamin D rich food sources such as:
- Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna)
- Fortified dairy products
- Fortified orange juice
- Certain mushrooms
By maintaining a diet rich in Vitamin D, we can increase our energy, enhance our mood and promote strong and healthy bones.
Cacao is probably one of my favorite superfoods because not only does it boast countless health benefits, it also tastes amazing; I often add a scoop of pure cacao powder to my protein shakes, protein porridge or use it to make a rich velvety hot chocolate. Be careful not to get confused between cacao and cocoa, although both reap a variety of health benefits, cocoa powder is created as a result of roasting raw cacao at extremely high temperatures that completely changes the molecular structure of the cocoa bean and naturally reduces the health boosting enzyme content and overall nutritional value.
Cacao is rich in anandamide which is known as the “bliss” molecule which can naturally boost your mood & create a sense of euphoria; it can also boost serotonin levels in the brain which is another feel good chemical, these chemicals can then boost brain calming hormones that can relax us if we are feeling stressed & restore feelings of wellbeing. As little as 2 squares (20g) of 85% dark chocolate a day is a good source of healthy fats, it can boost your mood, curb cravings and promote fat loss. Cacao is also rich in flavanols which boast anti-inflammatory health benefits as well as complex antioxidants also known as polyphenols. Flavanols & polyphenols can protect against cardiovascular disease, reduce the risk of stroke, improve blood circulation, reduce “bad” cholesterol & prevent hardening of arteries. Polyphenols antioxidants can also protect our cells from premature oxidation or destruction & help us to look & feel younger for longer! Who would have thought that chocolate could boost so many health benefits?
Spinach’s nutritional value indicates that it is extremely nutrient dense. It is low in calories yet rich in minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids. Spinach is also loaded with flavonoids which act as antioxidants and can protect the body from free radicals which is an essential health benefit all year round, but especially during Winter when we are more likely to catch a cold or flu. The iron rich food can also improve energy levels as iron is an important component of haemoglobin which transports oxygen to the bodies cells.
Avocado’s are a decadent fruit that boast several impressive health benefits including being a good source of magnesium, potassium and monounsaturated fats. Avocado’s can help to reduce “bad” cholesterol, plus its heart-healthy fats allow you to absorb more nutrients from other foods, so it is a great addition to your winter diet.
Increase your vitamin C intake with fresh oranges and kiwis, in fact, kiwis contain more vitamin C than oranges! Make sure you eat the entire kiwi too as the skin is full of fiber. Vitamin C can boost your immune system and aid defense against colds and flu.
We also need to remember to stay hydrated, you should aim to be drinking at least 3-6 litres of water a day. Remember, our bodies are made up of approximately 60% water and increased water intake can promote:
- Increased fat metabolism
- Healthier Skin
- Healthier joints
- Improved digestion
- Can reduce fatigue
- Healthier teeth & bones
- Can suppress apetite
Stock up on micronutrient rich fruits and vegetables such as blueberry’s, raspberries, oranges, carrots, spinach and kale; all of which contain countless health benefits and can be easily blended to make a highly nutritious and detoxifying smoothies and juices. 5 of my favourite smoothie and juice recipes can be found below and I like to use my 8 Week Workout mini juicer to ensure I can keep my nutrition clean when I’m on the go.
- Super Orange Juice (rich in vitamin C)
- 2 whole oranges, 1 carrot and 1 apple
- Coconut & Blueberry Spice (rich in antioxidants)
- 300ml coconut water, 50g blueberry, ½ apple, ½ carrot, ginger and ½ tsp cinnamon.
- Super Protein Smoothie
- 300ml water, Vanilla whey isolate, 50g whole rolled oats, tbsp. peanut or almond butter & 100g blueberries.
- All the Greens
- 2 kiwis, 25g kale, 25g spinach, squeeze of lemon & lime juice, 1 apple.
- Pure Green Refresher
¼ cucumber, ½ apple, ½ pear, ½ celery, 25g spinach, ¼ avocado, ginger, squeeze of lemon juice.