When the weather gets colder, it makes sense that we crave a warm bowl of chili or soup instead of a cold salad—but it’s not just because these foods make us feel cozier. Our bodies are telling us what we need to eat in the winter, when there’s less sun exposure, the air gets colder and drier, and we’re more prone to getting sick.
“Some people are very affected by the longer days, waking up in the dark in the morning and feeling more fatigued or depressed than usual,” says Danielle Omar, a registered dietitian and nutritionist in Fairfax.
Eating particular types of foods, Omar says, can help us stay energized and healthy through the winter. Read on for the ingredients to look for, plus a few of our favorite recipes.
1) In-Season Produce
It’s especially important to be eating with the seasons, Omar says. “Winter foods contain natural immune-boosting nutrients,” she says, which is important during cold and flu season. That means lots of winter squash, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, and fruits such as pears, apples, and citrus—all of which contain vitamins B and C and magnesium. Pomegranate seeds, another winter favorite, are also good for your heart.
2) Complex Carbohydrates
It’s normal to crave carbs in the winter because they boost levels of serotonin, a mood-lifter, says Omar. But instead of reaching for baked goods or a plate of pasta, opt instead for complex carbs, which give you energy and keep you fuller longer. You might stock up on legumes and whole grains such as rye and quinoa, and swap out white pasta for whole-grain or bean pastas, which offer more fiber and protein.
3) Vitamin D Foods
Less sun exposure also means a decrease in vitamin D, which affects both mood and immunity. Egg yolks, fatty fish, and fortified foods are all solid sources of the nutrient.
4) Omega-3 Fats
Foods such as salmon, other fatty fish, and walnuts contain essential omega-3 fats, also help stabilize mood swings. Other options include flax, chia, and hemp seeds—try throwing them into a smoothie or a bowl of oatmeal in the mornings, Omar says. Another plus: Omega-3s moisturize skin, which tends to dry out in the winter.
Amy’s, Kinnikinnick, Udi’s, Glutino, Bob’s Red Mill: These are some of the many gluten-free brands you might find on grocery store shelves these days. Some stores have entire sections dedicated to the diet, offering everything from gluten-free breads, cakes, and cookies to frozen meals and pizzas.
Though it’s becoming more popular for companies to offer GF items—great news for those allergic to gluten—it’s also frequently the case that brands are slapping a “gluten-free” label onto products simply to make them appear healthier, even on items that were gluten-free to begin with . . . such as bottles of water.
“This happens all the time and is really irritating to those of us living a gluten-free lifestyle,” says Vanessa Maltin Weisbrod, executive editor of Delight Gluten-Free Magazine and the author of several gluten-free cookbooks.
While packaged GF foods may appeal to health-conscious consumers, the reality is they tend to be chock-full of sugar, carbohydrates, and fat, largely because adding these ingredients makes the food taste better, she says.
“The rise in popularity of the gluten-free diet has led the general public to believe that gluten-free means better for you,” Weisbrod says. “While these packaged products are safely gluten-free and a wonderful replacement for people who need to maintain a gluten-free diet for health reasons, they aren’t necessarily better for you when it comes to nutritional qualities.”
A good rule of thumb: If the item wasn’t healthy as a “regular” product, the gluten-free version won't be, either. In other words, a gluten-free cupcake or doughnut is going to be just as unhealthy as its gluten-containing counterpart.
GF packaged goods also tend to rely on non-fortified—though naturally gluten-free—flours such as almond, sorghum, and buckwheat. These, says Weisbrod, have “nowhere near the same nutritional value as traditional wheat flours.” Although some of those flours may contain fiber, protein, and amino acids, most gluten-free products are made with ingredients like rice flour and cornstarch—which offer very little, if any, health benefits, Weisbrod says.
The healthiest way to eat gluten-free is to stick with fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, lean proteins, and naturally gluten-free whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, and amaranth. If you do buy packaged goods, look for ones that use gluten-free whole grains and flours that are fortified, Weisbrod recommends. Fortified gluten-free flours will provide essential vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron.
A few examples of good gluten-free items to look for the next time you’re at the store: Bob’s Red Mill makes whole-grain rolled oats, Udi’s sells whole-grain gluten-free bagels, and 1-2-3 Gluten Free offers fortified gluten-free flour mix.
If there’s one thing that gets runners through that last mile of a race, it’s the thought of brunch afterward. Loading up on pancakes, waffles, bacon, and mimosas after months of early morning runs and training? There’s no better reward.
Here, we share our top brunch spots for runners based on Washingtonian’s list of 50 Great Breakfast and Brunch Spots. Got a favorite brunch place of your own? Share it with us in the comments section!
For runners with bottomless appetites, head to: Liberty Tavern
On the weekend, Liberty Tavern in Clarendon is a hot spot for the post-race crowd, thanks to its $20 all-you-can-eat buffet. Think crispy bacon and fried chicken, French toast, yummy beet-and-goat-cheese salad, and a table piled high with house-made pop tarts and desserts.
For a good old-fashioned breakfast, head to: Silver Diner
The word “diner” may imply greasy plates of eggs and homefries, but expect a healthier twist on your favorite breakfast meals at Silver Diner with just-right portion sizes. Another perk: a hefty list of tasty smoothies and milkshakes to top off your meal.
For a quick grab-and-go, head to: Bayou Bakery
If you’re short on time and don’t want to deal with crowds, order a breakfast sandwich on a flaky biscuit at the counter of this Courthouse restaurant. Also worth a try: beignets, house-made croissants, and a muff-a-lotta sandwich.
For the vegetarian runner, head to: Busboys and Poets
If you’ve got a vegetarian or vegan runner in the group, Busboys and Poets has a good number of meatless dishes. The Oaxacan-style omelet with black beans and guacamole never fails, and most meals are $10 or less.
For a true celebratory brunch, head to: the Hamilton
For the music-loving type, head to the Hamilton near the Metro Center for its $30 Southern buffet with a free alcoholic drink. Then chow down on all-you-can-eat buttermilk biscuits and gumbo to the sound of live music.
Removing meat from your diet may lower blood pressure and therefore reduce your risk of heart disease, according to a new study conducted by a professor at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
In the first meta-analysis of its kind, Dr. Neal Barnard and his team of researchers compared the blood pressure of more than 21,000 people involved in various observational studies and clinical trials. They found that participants who maintained a plant-based diet, from vegan to pescetarian to semi-vegetarian, were associated with lower blood pressure readings.
A healthy person should have a systolic blood pressure less than 120 mmHg and a diastolic blood pressure less than 80 mmHg—any higher doubles the risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
In the study, vegetarians reported a systolic blood pressure about 7 mmHg lower and diastolic blood pressure 5 mmHg lower than participants who ate meat. The lower blood pressure readings mean huge health benefits: A reduction of 5 mmHg in systolic blood pressure leads to a 9 percent reduced risk of heart disease and a 14 percent reduced risk of stroke.
Why is a vegetarian diet so effective at lowering blood pressure? For one, vegetarians often have lower BMIs compared with omnivores, thanks to the higher fiber intake and lower saturated fat levels of plant-based diets. In addition, vegetarians typically consume a high amount of potassium, which, along with exercise, directly correlates with lower blood pressure.
The findings support the idea that those who suffer from hypertension don’t have to rely solely on medicine, said Barnard in a statement. “Let’s write prescriptions for plant-based foods,” he said. Switching to a plant-based diet promotes healthy side effects, such as weight loss, lower blood pressure, and the presence of good cholesterol, he added.
However, more research is needed to find out whether certain vegetarian diets are more effective in reducing blood pressure than others, researchers noted.
The full study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The Skinny on Diets
If all goes according to plan, nutrition labels will be getting a big makeover, thanks to a proposal issued by the US Food and Drug Administration and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Yesterday the FDA announced its proposal to update the Nutrition Facts label in order to better reflect the latest health and dietary research and allow consumers to make healthier food choices. “You as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family,” Obama said in her announcement at the White House.
If the proposal gets approved, it would be the first time the labels have been updated since 2006. The Nutrition Facts labels first appeared on food packages 20 years ago.
The proposal is the First Lady’s latest efforts to prioritize healthy eating as part of her Let’s Move! initiative, which recently celebrated its four-year anniversary.
Here are some of the major changes proposed by the FDA:
• Include the number of grams of added sugar
• Increase the font size of number of servings per container and calories. The serving size requirements will be updated to reflect how much people actually eat today.
• Include information about certain nutrients the US population typically does not get enough of in their diets, such as potassium and vitamin D. Vitamins A and C will no longer be required on labels.
• Remove “calories from fat,” as “research shows that the type of fat is more important than the amount,” the FDA wrote in its proposal.
The changes will not go into effect immediately. The FDA is accepting public comment on the proposal for the next 90 days.
Between morning workouts, a stressful job, and shuttling kids from school to practice, how does one find the time to plan and prepare healthy meals? Busy Washingtonians have turned to services that whip together nutritious food, often delivered to their door. As a plus, all of the following services use local meat and produce as much as possible.
If You Have No Time at All
DC, Montgomery County, Arlington, Fairfax County. Meals are also available for pickup at 5329 Georgia Avenue, Northwest.
How it works
Users choose from a Lite Bites or Veggie Bites menu each week. The meals are delivered fresh to your home and come with the option of snacks. Kid-friendly meals are also available.
Recent menu choices
Ginger shrimp with mango, green beans, and brown rice; roasted-red-pepper chicken with sautéed spinach and quinoa; turkey meatballs with whole-wheat pesto pasta and veggies.
Three-to-seven-day packages range from $33 to $275; healthybitesfood.com.
If You’re a Gym Rat
DC; Northern Virginia; Baltimore; Montgomery, PG, Howard, Anne Arundel counties.
How it works
Chefs create Paleo and vegetarian lunches and dinners, gluten- and dairy-free. Order meals online and pick up Monday through Thursday at more than 55 gyms and fitness studios.
Recent menu choices
Buffalo chicken with cumin-carrot salad; Paleo corned-beef-and-sauerkraut Reuben with parsnip hash and grilled zucchini; stuffed-grape-leaves casserole; Hawaiian chicken salad with sautéed garlic kale.
Lunches and dinners range from $9.50 to $15.50, with the option of three or five days of meals; dc.mypowersupply.com.
If You Want to Feed Your Inner Chef
DC, Alexandria, Arlington.
How it works
Monday through Thursday, Scratch DC posts a nutritionist-advised dinner on its website; users can order online and set up a 30-minute delivery window. The package contains the recipe and fixings required to create that day’s meal. To save time, all ingredients come chopped, measured, and marinated.
Recent menu choices
Mushroom-and-goat-cheese beef stroganoff; mozzarella chicken caprese and asparagus in a balsamic reduction; butternut-squash-bacon-and-Gruyère risotto and spinach vinaigrette salad.
$25 to $30 per meal, which feeds two; scratchdc.com.
This article appears in the February 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
You already know vegetables are good for you. What you may not know, however, is that certain veggies—many that often get overlooked at the grocery store—contain the highest levels of detoxifying properties. We rounded up five vegetables that do the best job at ridding your body of toxins and bacteria and leave you squeaky clean and healthy.
Don’t just go for fennel seeds—the plant’s bulb, leaves, and stalks are rich in antioxidants, fiber, and potassium, too. Fennel is known for its anti-inflammatory, liver- and colon-protecting properties. The seeds are often used to ease digestive pain.
Artichokes contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants, coming in seventh on the US Department of Agriculture’s top 20 antioxidant-rich foods list. Studies show that the intimidating-looking vegetable also lowers cholesterol and relieves gastrointestinal problems.
They’re in the same family as kale and broccoli, so you can bet they contain plenty of health benefits, too. These greens are high in vitamins K, A, and C, and have been shown to outshine kale for cholesterol-lowing abilities. One cup contains more than five grams of fiber, which makes it a great source of digestive support.
There’s no denying kale’s powerful detoxing benefits. One cup of the leafy green contains 1,328 percent of your recommended daily value of vitamin K, more than 300 percent of vitamin A, and 89 percent of vitamin C. Studies strongly link kale to cancer prevention and heart health. (Also try: broccoli.)
The richly colored root contains betalains, phytonutrients that help detoxify and have anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties. Note, however, that the longer you cook beets, the more betalain damage they incur. Stick to 15 to 20 minutes of steaming or boiling, and 45 minutes or less for roasting.
Pomegranate season is in full swing, and we just can’t get enough of those yummy seeds, whether they’re tossed into salads, blended into smoothies, or simply eaten raw. But de-seeding a pomegranate has always been a messy hassle—until now.
Fast food restaurants get a bad rap. And in many cases, rightly so (heart attack on a plate, anyone?). But as recently as this week, certain quick-service spots have tried to shed their fried-food personas and offer alternatives for us health-minded folks.
We rounded up some of the “healthier” options that have popped up on fast food restaurants’ menus in recent years—or days, in Burger King’s case.
Burger King: Satisfries
Burger King made headlines this week when it announced its new menu item Satisfries. BK boasts that the fries have 40 percent less fat and 30 percent fewer calories than McDonald’s fries. And the website says Satisfries fries are “cut from real, whole potatoes,” which begs the question: What are the normal fries made of? (Our verdict: These may be “healthier,” but they’re still fried.)
Confession: I stepped into a Whole Foods for the first time ever this summer. And while yes, it was magical, and yes, I appreciated all of the local and organic produce, as local nutritionist Betsy Ramirez points out, there’s a reason it’s often dubbed “Whole Paycheck.”
But shopping at Whole Foods doesn’t have to be so expensive that you’re silently sobbing as you hand over your credit card. We consulted with grocery-shopping expert Ramirez and fellow nutritionist Danielle Omar to see how they manage to save some major bucks at Whole Foods. Print out this list before you make your next shopping trip, and leave Whole Foods with a heaping bag of healthy groceries—and a much healthier bank account.
1) Check the website for coupons and sale tips.
Each month Whole Foods publishes a Whole Deal coupon booklet that’s available for download. You can also check out the in-store flyer to see what’s on sale for the week at each location. Says Omar, “I take advantage of the Whole Deal coupon booklet every month and work my meal planning for the week around what’s on sale.” Also helpful, says Ramirez, is the Whole Foods recipe app. “Everyone should have this. Not only do you have access to recipes at your fingertips, but you can access your store’s sales flyer. It also features a budget-friendly meal planner broken down by date, nutrition information, and special diet.”