When the thermometer plunges, you may feel like eating high-fat comfort foods. Dietary habits do change seasonally, but winter doesn't mean your healthy diet has to hibernate.
A varied, balanced, year-round diet--one that highlights vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans, and de-emphasizes meat and other high-saturated fat foods--can reduce your risk for major, chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Still, eating right any time of year can be a challenge. The following are some ideas for making the most of your diet's disease-fighting potential this winter and beyond.
Pack in the produce
Although supermarkets offer less fresh produce this time of year, that shouldn't stop you from eating fruits and vegetables. For the average, moderately active man or woman, that means 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 cups per day of fruits and 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 cups per day of vegetables.
Fluid is essential during the winter to help stave off dry skin and the fatigue that can sometimes arise with shorter days and colder temperatures. Plain water is your best choice.
Become a meat minimalist
Meat--especially beef, lamb, and pork--is an excellent source of iron, zinc, B vitamins and protein. But it's also high in saturated fat, which elevates blood cholesterol and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
To sustain yourself on less meat, USDA dietary guidelines recommend choosing a variety of protein-rich foods, such as seafood, poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds. Aim for 5- to 7-ounce equivalents of protein a day, the amount recommended for the average, moderately active woman or man.
Also, to make your wintertime menu healthier, make simple, one-pot dishes, such as casseroles, stews, and stir-fries lower in fat by omitting most or all of the meat from the traditional recipes.
Embrace whole grains
Whole grains, such as oatmeal and brown rice, are also rich in fiber, which may help protect against heart disease, diabetes, digestive disorders, and some cancers.
USDA dietary guidelines for Americans recommend that at least half your grains are whole grains. This means eating a minimum of 3-1/2 to 5 ounces of whole grain daily for the average, moderately active woman or man. To put more whole grains, and consequently more fiber, into your diet, opt for whole-grain cereals like oatmeal and whole-grain bread for breakfast.
Switch the fat
Substitute heart-healthy unsaturated fat, such as olive oil and canola oil for butter and other saturated fat.
When sauteing, use just enough oil to barely coat the bottom of the pan. When making salad dressing, drizzle in just a tablespoon of the finest extra-virgin olive oil, which packs the most flavor.