A Dietitian’s Guide to a Healthy Winter Solstice

Historically, the winter solstice held a fascination for so many societies and cultures who honored the darkness with varying rituals.  Continuing to honor the longest night and the shortest day in ways that nourish our body, mind, and soul are important practices to carry through winter to stay well.  However, I think honoring the seasons as they change can get lost within our American society.  The winter solstice comes once a year, and some of us don’t even notice it while others don’t know what it is.  We live in a fast paced culture of lively technology, social media amusements, a loud political environment, the pursuit of perfectionism, the accumulation of possessions, the pulls of comparison, and so on.  All of these distractions make us forget what is fundamental to humans which is simply being in nature.  Winter is nature’s way of giving us time and space to slow down, and a chance for the land to rejuvenate itself for the upcoming spring planting.  And just like the land, we also need time to revitalize ourselves. Here are some simple and sincere suggestions to create a vibrant refreshing winter.

1 – Get more vitamin C and zinc

If the body is low in vitamin c or zinc, it has a harder time warding off those winter germs that like to go around. My favorite vitamin c rich foods in the winter are citrus (lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges, clementines), cruciferous veggies (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, cabbage), and frozen berries (make a great addition to warming oatmeal).  You can also try out a couple recipes on my blog such as the Vitamin C Enhanced Guacamole or the Vitamin C Spiked Hummus.

Zinc is important to the body in so many ways, but especially for keeping the immune system strong. You can find zinc in whole grains, beans, oysters, crab, pumpkin seeds, and almonds. For a whole grain option, try my Spelt Rose Banana Bread.

2 – Get more sleep

If you skimp on the shut-eye, your body will make fewer cytokines.  Cytokines are a type of protein that are secreted by the immune system which targets infections and inflammation. It is truly a powerful immune response. The thing about cytokines is that they are mainly produced and released during sleep. With insufficient sleep, there is a reduction in cytokines which will cause the immune system to function less optimally.

3 – Drink more water/make more soups

Anyone complain about how they aren’t thirsty in the winter? {points at myself} It is crucial to stay hydrated in the winter. Dehydration can still occur in the winter months because as the weather gets dryer and cooler, it can lead to a decreased thirst sensation causing one to drink less.  My favorite things to hydrate with in winter months are warm water, hydrating teas, and broth-based soups.  There are a couple of hydrating tea recipes on my blog, here and here.  For an awesome soup recipe full of vitamin c rich cauliflower – my classmate from grad school has this great one-pot cauliflower curry soup recipe found here.

4 – Get more exercise/explore more

I’m not talking about going to the gym.  I’m talking about going outdoors. Make a pot of yogi tea, pour it into your thermos, bundle up, and go outside. Walk around your neighborhood, the city, the forest, the beach, or countryside. Wherever you are, find ways to connect exercise to nature (even if it is cold – bundle up). It is well known that physical activity improves both physiological and psychological well-being, which is essential during these colder, darker months where people are known to have seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression. Exercise and natural light are two of the best and naturally instinctive treatments for seasonal affective disorder.

5 – Read more

The viewpoint that reading can help to lessen anxiety was expressed as early as the 5th century BCE, by the Greek tragedian Aeschylus, who wrote that “words are the physician of the mind diseased”.  Since then, The Reading Agency has found strong evidence that reading for pleasure may increase empathy, improve relationships with others, reduce symptoms of depression, and improve well-being throughout life. Here are a few of the books I’ve read this year:

6 – Get more organized/clean more often

Cleanliness and organization are a form of self-respect. While the soup is simmering on the stove, do a big or little clean. A little clean such as putting away clean dishes or a big clean such as washing your floors and kitchen sink with lavender essential oil mixed with eucalyptus. Use the simple practice of cleaning your home as a calling to a fresh start. Move the furniture around if you feel like it. Put new sheets on your bed.  Whatever would make you feel fantastic!

7 – Relax more

Light a fire in the fireplace or light some candles and…Just. Be. There have got to be some benefits of simply doing nothing. In Italy they call it “La Dolce Far Niente”  – literally translates as “the sweetness of doing nothing” – and it could be the part of the puzzle to a healthy and happy life.

8 – Or just forget doing “more” – Just try your best. 😉

Creating new winter practices takes time and patience. Remember, it isn’t about having a perfect experience—it’s about who you are BEING in the moment. Let the creation of your winter practices nourish and support you. Remember it is your true self and your true nature that is integral to heart-centered healthy living.

With love from my kitchen table to yours,
Katie xoxo

Katie Abbott, MS, RDN, INHC

Author Katie Abbott, MS, RDN, INHC

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