Life Food

Nutritious ideas to get you through winter's last blast

By Rita DeMontis, Toronto Sun

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

We're in the early days of spring, and yet I suspect most of us are still dressing in layers and shivering as we wait for real warmth to arrive. It doesn't help the Weather Network's forecasting a colder than normal March.

Personally, I'm all for getting an arrest warrant out for Ontario's Wiarton Willie and Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam - for lying through their toothy mouths on Groundhog Day that spring was only two weeks away.

So what do we do? Seek comfort in creamy soups, rich stews and decadant sweets. Sure, they lift our spirits - for a few moments. Then reality hits like the cold we've been living with lately.

These are the worst type of go-to foods right now, says award-winning cookbook author and professional home economist Mairlyn Smith, host of the hilarious My Left Frying Pan Youtube series. “You want to avoid sugary empty calorie foods; they give you a quick 'feel better' feeling followed by a big dip in mood as your blood sugars go amok,” says Smith, who suggests sticking to “back to basics types of foods” like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, lentils, chickpeas, seeds, and lean proteins, plus fermented dairy like kefir and yogurt.

There are quick-fix foods to help you get back on track: “Try the 30-minute miracle meal - a low-fat, low-protein, high-carbohydrate snack: Think toasted English muffin with a dollop of blueberry jam,” notes Prevention.com. “When high-carbohydrate food isn't bogged down by the presence of protein or fat, they allow an amino acid called tryptophan to flood your brain, where it morphs into serotonin, a neurotransmitter that boosts mood and curbs food cravings...as a bonus, it helps you tolerate pain and can even help you sleep like a baby. And all that happens in just half an hour. “

Smith suggests other go-to foods rich in “omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory” like salmon, walnuts, and ground flaxseed. “I also choose my two favourite heart healthy fats – authentic extra virgin olive oil and canola oil.”

Sometimes all it takes is a slice of whole grain bread with some honey to help perk you up in no time, adds Elizabeth Somer, author of Food and Mood.

Yes, there are foods that are good for you - and can lift your spirits, too, says Toronto registered dietitian Andy De Santis, who specializes in helping people achieve a greater state of health by improving the way they eat.

"Let’s face it, for the vast majority of us, winter sucks.,” says De Santis, adding many of us do turn to calorie-rich, unhealthy foods to make it through the cold season – foods “which only made you feel worse”, says De Santis, of Andytherd.com.

The good news is – just like the weather's changing, so can we change our eating habits with foods that are tasty, delicious and good for you.

De Santis offers the following five feel-good snack ideas to help you get into a spring state of mind:

1. Popcorn ( home-made/air popped preferably): Despite it’s bad reputation and association with movie theatres ( where it is often lathered in gobs of butter) popcorn is actually a low-calorie feel good food that is a perfect pick me up.

2. High % MF Greek Yogurt: Ice cream tends to be the go-to feel good food for many people. One healthier alternative is a higher percentage milk fat Greek yogurt, which will contain a much higher nutrient density than almost all standard ice cream varieties with less calories per serving as well.

3. Nuts in the Shell: Extraordinarily healthy and nutrient rich, tree nuts can be easy to over-consume. The solution? Purchase your nuts in-shell and crack them yourself. Not only do they taste better this way, but it will help you regulate your intake as well.

4. Home-Made Granola: Forget the complex recipes and excessively fattened and sweetened store-bought varieties. Mix a few cups of rolled oats with a few Tbsps. of olive oil and maple syrup and throw it in the oven at 300F for 20 minutes. Add sunflower seeds if your feeling adventurous.

5. Sliced Bananas/Apples with Peanut Butter + Cinnamon: Peanut butter is the ultimate feel good food and this list would not complete without it. Place it on top of sliced bananas and apples for the ultimate snack.

DID YOU KNOW

A weight loss of 5 to 10% is enough to contribute to significant reductions in your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

- Andy DeSantis.

Recipes you should try:

TROPICAL COCONUT CRISP

Has all the elements to lift your spirits – tropical tasting, full of yummy healthy foods. Recipe courtesy Hain-celestial.ca.

  • 2 bags(400g each) frozen tropical fruit with coconut (Europe's Best suggested)
  • 3/4 cup (175mL) coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp. (5mL) lime zest
  • 3 Tbsp. (45mL) lime juice
  • 1/4 cup (60mL) all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp. (30mL) organic coconut oil, melted
  • 1-1/2 tsp. (7mL) ground cinnamon
  • 1-1/2 tsp. (7mL) pure vanilla

Topping

  • 3/4 cup (175mL) oats
  • 1/2 cup (125mL) EACH coconut flakes, all-purpose flour, coconut sugar
  • 1/3 cup (75mL) coconut oil, melted
  • 2 cups (500mL) Greek style honey vanilla yogurt

Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Stir together fruit, coconut sugar, lime zest, lime juice, flour, coconut oil, cinnamon and vanilla. Spread evenly onto a greased 8-inch (2L) baking dish.

Topping: Stir together oats, coconut flakes, flour and coconut sugar. Toss with coconut oil until well coated. Sprinkle evenly over filling.

Bake 45-50 minutes or until filling is bubbling and topping is golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes. Serve with dollop of yogurt.

Serves 8.

SPICY RED LENTIL SOUP

This lentil soup is jammed packed with heart healthy goodness. Courtesy Homegrown: Celebrating the Canadian Foods We Grow, Raise and Produce.

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced and set aside to oxidize
  • 1 tsp. (5mL) EACH cracked black pepper, turmeric, ground cumin, cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. (1mL) ground allspice
  • 1 cup (250mL) dry red lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 2 Tbsp. (30mL) canola oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1 tsp. (5mL) fresh grated ginger
  • 1 cup (250mL) chopped celery, about 3 stalks
  • 1-28 fl oz (796mL) can no salt added diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups (1 L) no salt added chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup (250mL) cold water
  • 8 dried apricots, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp. (5mL) salt

Mix together cracked black pepper, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, and allspice in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add oil, onions and celery. Saute for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add garlic, ginger, and the spice mixture. Saute for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, broth, water, rinsed lentils, apricots and salt.

Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 35-40 minutes stirring occasionally. Serve. Can be made up to two days in advance and stored in the fridge.

Makes 8 cups, each serving equal to 2 cups (500mL)