If the colder weather has you thinking non-stop about food, why not focus on the seasonal foods that are actually good for you, instead of reaching for unhealthy choices?
Below, Jean Hailes naturopath Sandra Villella talks about her tips and winter-food winners, explaining how they can help you through the colder months and how to get more of these ingredients into your daily diet.
Change up to warm up
When winter hits and the outside temperature drops, it's a good idea to change your food choices to suit the season, explains Sandra. "Move away from the summery health foods of cold salads and smoothies, and warm up from the inside by eating more cooked and warm foods," she says. "Many of us do this automatically and start to crave winter-warming meals such as soups and stews in the colder months."
You can also increase the warming power of food by adding certain herbs and spices. Ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and allspice can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes for an added kick of warmth. Add a pinch or two of your favourites as you cook your porridge, soup or roasted vegies.
Herbal teas to help you through
Instead of warming up with another tea or coffee, Sandra suggests having your favourite herbal teas close at hand, either at work or home. "Ginger tea has been traditionally used to boost circulation, it's anti-inflammatory and wonderfully calming to the digestive system. Real chai tea [not powdered] is another good option, it can be bought as a tea blend and is made with a combination of warming herbs and spices."
An added bonus of drinking herbal teas in winter is that they help you to stay hydrated if you don't feel like drinking water in the colder weather.
Pumpkin, sweet potato & carrots
To satisfy the 'carb' cravings that often come with winter, Sandra suggests including these orange-coloured options.
Pumpkin, sweet potato and carrots are excellent sources of beta-carotene, a nutrient that the body can convert to vitamin A and use to aid our immune system. It helps to form our body's first line of defence against colds, viruses and other infections that are common in the colder months.
Sweet potatoes can be used wherever you would use regular potatoes – mashed, roasted or steamed – and contain more beneficial nutrients than their paler cousins. Roasted carrots add a naturally sweet element to other vegetables or a roast.
Start your dinner with soup
Having a small bowl of vegie soup before your main meal is a great way to boost your daily vegetable intake. It can also help to manage potential winter weight gain, by reducing the amount of food you eat in the meal overall.
Here is a basic recipe to follow: sauté some garlic and onion or leek, add all of your favourite soup vegetables and a good stock, simmer until done. Serve with an optional dollop of pesto.
Soups can also form the whole meal and makes excellent leftovers for lunch. Sandra's cauliflower and cannellini bean soup is a delicious and extremely quick meal to prepare, especially suited for the winter months when cauliflower is in season. Some of her other favourite combinations are lentil, barley and vegetable, chicken and vegetable, and lamb shanks and vegetable.
For soups that take a little longer to make, Sandra recommends making a big batch and freezing easy-portioned sizes for the weeks ahead.
Don't skip the protein
A key nutrient to pay attention to during winter is zinc. This mineral helps our immune system to recognise and destroy invading bacteria and viruses, so being low in zinc can make you more likely to pick up winter bugs.
Protein foods are the best sources of zinc, says Sandra.
"Always include a fist-sized portion of protein at every meal," she says. "Animal sources of protein are meats, eggs, fish and dairy. Lower amounts are found in vegetable sources such as pulses/legumes; for example beans, chickpeas and lentils, as well as seeds and nuts.
"The zinc in these vegetable sources is more available if they are sprouted, so soaking overnight in water starts this sprouting process."
Chermoula is a paste rich in warming spices and winter-winning nutrients. A recipe that originated in North Africa, it's often on standby in Sandra's fridge, ready to be whipped out and used in a variety of ways.
Chermoula can be used as a marinade for meats (think lamb or chicken), as a sauce for fish, seafood or vegetarian dishes, or to spice up a winter soup – just add a generous drizzle/dollop to serve.
It packs a punch of flavour and is guaranteed to add some zing to a wintry day.
Sandra's winter-warming chermoula paste (variation of Neil Perry's original recipe)
Juice of 1 lemon
½ bunch flat leaf parsley
1 red onion, peeled and sliced
4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon of fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Place all ingredients except for the oil into a food processor, process ingredients and slowly add the oil until it forms a wet paste. Store in a jar in the fridge and use as a marinade, sauce or paste.
Find out more about healthy eating and access more recipes and quick tips by visiting the Jean Hailes Kitchen.