It's that time of year again to dig out your sweaters and warm jackets. As cozy as that sounds, the reality is winter can be harsh for many of us. It brings on the winter blahs, sucks up our energy, causes joint pain and then leaves us sick in bed with the sniffles.
The good news is you can stay healthy this winter! Check out our list of 10 essential vitamins to help you thrive, and not just survive, this winter season.
Your body naturally produces vitamin D when bare skin is exposed to sunlight, but as temperatures drop in the winter months this can become problematic. This lack of sun exposure often leads to our vitamin D levels dropping, but rest assured there are ways to protect you from vitamin D deficiency this winter season. Choosing food sources that contain vitamin D such as fatty fishes (e.g. salmon, tuna and mackerel), milk, yogurt and mushrooms is a good start, but it can be hard to meet your daily requirements from eating these foods alone. Taking a vitamin D supplement is recommended to be safe and beneficial for all adults. Vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining healthy bones, teeth and muscles, improves resistance against certain diseases and helps to fight the winter blues. Of course, your doctor can help decide how much is right for you.
As the days get colder and winter starts to settle in, we need to prepare ourselves for cold and flu season. A simple preventative measure is having enough vitamin C to boost our immune systems and prevent common colds. Unlike some vitamins, vitamin C is an essential vitamin and the body is unable to produce or store it. The good news is most of your favorite fruits and vegetables contain this vitamin, including citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwis, mango, papaya, pineapple, cranberries and vegetables like broccoli, green and red peppers, beans, tomatoes, potatoes and cabbage. Taking a vitamin C supplement is also a great way to support your immune system and promote the production of white blood cells which can help fight infections and ward off winter influenza.
Winters are cold enough as-is, but if you are feeling extra frigid it may be more than old man winter creeping into your bones. If you are experiencing weakness, fatigue, cold hands and feet, difficulty breathing, chest pain, fast heart beat and/or dizziness, you may want to have your iron levels checked by your doctor. You can usually correct iron deficiency, also known as anemia, with iron supplementation or by adding iron rich foods such as liver, red meat, pork, chicken, seafood, lentils and beans, tofu, dark green leafy vegetables, peas, dried fruit, iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas to your diet.
If you are iron deficient, chances are your vitamin A stores are taking a hit as well. Vitamin A acts as an antioxidant and supports the health of the immune system by maintaining the body's natural defenses. It is used to maintain healthy vision, support bone health in case of a slip or fall in nasty winter conditions, puts a glow back in dull winter skin and ensures the normal functioning of your organs. The best way to ensure you get the right balance is to consume vitamin A rich foods as part of your normal diet and avoid supplementing with excessive amounts. The top food sources of vitamin A include liver and fish oils, milk and eggs, leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables, tomato products, fortified cereals, carrots, broccoli, cantaloupe and squash.
Cold winter weather can cause skin to get flaky, dry and itchy, but rest assured that vitamin E is here to save the day! This vitamin is a super powerful hydrator and anti-oxidant that assists with skin health from within and can help boost your immune system as well. The good news is, there is more than one way to get enough vitamin E. You can eat foods high in vitamin E such as sunflower seeds, almonds, avocados, spinach, butternut squash, kiwi, broccoli, trout, olive oil and shrimp or you can take supplements. Another easy way to reap the benefits of vitamin E is to supplement your skin care regime with lotions containing this skin protecting vitamin.
Winter's combination of short days and bone-chilling temperatures can leave us in a serious state of winter blahs or even seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. If you want to improve your mood, mental focus and ward off the sniffles this winter season, than Omega-3 Fatty Acids could be exactly what you are looking for. Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fat which means the body needs these fatty acids to function and survive. Two crucial ones, EPA and DHA, are primarily found in certain fish such as anchovies, salmon, sardines, herring, tuna and bluefish. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is found in plant sources such as walnuts, faxseed and faxseed oil, canola oil, soybean oil and chia seeds. Try aim to eat omega-3 fatty acids at least two times a week preferably from food sources rather than supplements.
Winter is known for two things; shoveling snow and warming up by the fire with delicious cookies and a warm glass of milk. So how is calcium involved in both of these favorite pastimes you ask? Calcium is an essential mineral that supports strong bones and healthy teeth. In turn, this can help protect your bones from icy falls and teeth from cavities, especially in the holiday season! Your body does not produce calcium, so you must rely on your diet, or supplements if needed, to get the calcium you need. Foods high in calcium are dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt, dark green vegetables such as kale, spinach and broccoli, white beans, sardines and calcium-fortified breads, cereals, soy products and orange juice. Here are a few more interesting facts about calcium: you need vitamin D to absorb calcium, calcium is more important for women, the recommended amount depends on your age, too much calcium can have negative effects and lack of calcium can lead to other health issues. As always, talk to your doctor to see what dose is right for you.
Folate can be found in green leafy vegetables, but during winter months when spinach and asparagus are sparse, it's even more difficult to top up folic acid stores. Lack of folate results in dry, flaky skin that is unable to retain sufficient moisture and this worsens in the winter when we take frequent hot showers and bathes and when the humidity is low. Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is a water soluble vitamin that has many important functions in your body. Since your body cannot make folate, it must be obtained through dietary intake, or supplements if required. The good news is folate is naturally present in a wide variety of foods including vegetables (especially dark green leafy vegetables), fruits and fruit juices, nuts, beans, peas, seafood, eggs, dairy products, meat, poultry and grains. Spinach, liver, asparagus and brussel sprouts are among the foods with the highest folate levels. Do your best to top your folate stores naturally, but if needed speak to your doctor about doses right for you if you are concerned.
These energetic groups of vitamins, ranging from B1 to B12, are extremely essential during the winter. They are best known for kicking your immune system up a few notches to protect your body from sickness, increasing nervous system health, boosting cellular renewal, and improving your mood. All of these factors sure do come in handy in terms of promoting your overall health and happiness to help deter the winter blues. There is a wide range of food containing B vitamins, which makes it easy to get enough from your diet. You can find vitamin B in milk, cheese, eggs, liver and kidney, chicken and red meat, shellfish, dark green leafy vegetable, beans, nuts and seeds, blackstrap molasses, wheat germ and whole grains and cereals. You should resort to taking a supplement only if your doctor has confirmed that you are deficient in a specific B vitamin. As always, seek the advice of your doctor if you think a supplement is right for you.
Winter is known to drag everyone down, but sometimes women suffer from painful menstrual cramps that worsen during the winter month. Adding magnesium can ease cramps during cold winter months by lessening contractions of nerve impulses. In addition, everyone's mental health is dependent on magnesium as it is known for its incredible calming properties that help decrease overall stress and give you a high quality night's sleep. Many foods contain high levels of magnesium, including nuts and seeds, dark green vegetables, avocados, dark chocolate, whole grains and legumes, however, wheat products lose magnesium when the wheat is refined, so it is best to choose cereals and breads made with whole grains. If you suspect you may need a supplement, always consult your doctor before taking anything.