If the freezing temperatures and every-other-day snowfall has got you wanting to do nothing but curl up on the couch with a grilled cheese sandwich and a blanket, we can’t blame you. It’s natural to crave warm, comforting, carb-rich foods in the winter. Being cooped up inside with limited natural sunlight (and Vitamin D) takes a toll on your mood and energy levels, and one way to boost the neurotransmitter serotonin is through carbohydrate consumption. Having sufficient levels of serotonin – aka a “happy chemical” – is essential to regulate mood, energy, appetite, digestion, sleep, and memory among other functions.
While it can be tempting to double down on pasta, bread, and pastries when you hear “eat your carbs!”, as Corefire’s resident Food Coach, I suggest otherwise. Mother nature has our backs by providing a plethora of healthy carbohydrates this winter season in the form of root vegetables. Yams (what you might think of as “sweet potatoes”); carrots and parsnips; and beets are all root vegetables that are good examples of what I call “smart” carbs. To be a “smart” carb, the food must be nutrient dense, a good source of fiber, and as minimally processed as possible.
That said, even healthy foods become less healthy depending on how you prepare them. So stick to baking, roasting, steaming, and mashing as your main preparation techniques for root veggies, and save the frying for a while in a while treat. (Although air frying can be a great alternative!) I also like to use root vegetables to replace more processed alternatives. Think: sweet potato toast, beet noodles, and carrot fries.
Not a root vegetable, but all varieties of squash are wonderful in the winter, and usually a rich source of beta-carotene (the more orange, the better). And white potatoes (actually considered a “stem vegetable” although it grows underground) can certainly have a place in a healthy overall diet. Baked potato + broccoli + a bit of shredded cheddar cheese and a soup sounds pretty comforting to me!
And finally, if you are for one reason or the other watching your carbohydrate intake, there are plenty of root vegetables that are lower in the macronutrient. This great guide to root vegetables explains:
“Yams, beets, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, yuca, kohlrabi, onions, garlic, celery root (or celeriac), horseradish, daikon, turmeric, jicama, Jerusalem artichokes, radishes, and ginger are all considered roots.”
As an added bonus, root vegetables tend to have a long shelf life as if they are stored properly. Try to keep them in a cool, dark, humid place until you’re ready to use.