Winter Nutrition: Key nutrients you may be missing in winter

17 Jun 2019

Our lifestyles change as the days get shorter and the temperature drops, and so does our nutritional intake. A healthy diet and plenty of exercise can keep you out of your doctor’s office and feeling more energized through the short and gloomy days. There are four nutrients you should keep in mind to stay healthy this winter.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for maintaining bone density* and supporting the immune system, brain, and nervous system. We can only get a very small amount from food, about one fifth of what we need. The rest we synthesize ourselves during exposure to UVB rays from sunlight. About one third of Australian adults are thought to be low in vitamin D. While we need to be sensible about our sun protection, some sun during low UV times is necessary. This is especially important for people who habitually cover their skin while in public and the elderly who spend most of their time indoors.

Aim to get outside during daylight for 40 minutes a day during winter (or 6 minutes in summer). Dark-skinned people need to aim for four hours during winter (and 42 minutes during summer). Food sources of vitamin D include oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines, as well as red meat and eggs

*To reduce your risk of osteoporosis and fractures a combination of calcium, vitamin D and weight baring exercise is required.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a very common vitamin and antioxidant found in most fruit and vegetables. Most people get enough to meet their basic needs (and prevent scurvy) by eating some fruit and vegetables every day. As we tend to eat less fruit and vegetables during the winter months, we generally consume less of this important vitamin. Diets high in Vitamin C can decrease the severity and longevity of colds and flus, which makes it important to meet your fruit and vegetable intake, even in winter. This powerful antioxidant can also help protect us from cancer and heart disease, so it isn’t just a winter vitamin.

Citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, cabbage, beans, broccoli, capsicum and sweet potatoes are very good sources of vitamin C. Cutting and heating foods changes vitamin C and makes it less effective. So, it helps to eat some fruits and vegetables raw, or just lightly cooked, and don’t cut them too long before eating them. You can take supplements for an additional boost, but focus on getting your daily 2 serves of 

fruit and 5 serves of vegetables first as they come with the benefits of other nutrients, antioxidants and fibre too!

Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin that our body cannot synthesize. It is important for maintaining your mood and cognitive function. This is even truer in winter as low levels of vitamin B12 have been associated with Seasonal Affective Disease (SAD) and other depressive symptoms such as mood swings, low mood, fatigue and memory fog often experienced during winter.

It is naturally found in animal products like meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. Vitamin B12 is not present in plant foods, unless they have been specifically fortified; like plant milks or breakfast cereals. If you don’t (or infrequently) eat animal products you should talk to your health care provider about a supplement.

While not technically a nutrient, enough water is vital but often overlooked during the cooler months. As we sweat and move less, it’s easy to forget to keep up with our hydration needs but drinking enough water is just as important in winter as it is during summer. Water is essential to keep our organs functioning adequately. Staying hydrated also helps our concentration, memory, mood, digestion and appetite in check. Aim for at least 2L of water a day. More on days where you are exercising or feeling unwell.