Text size:  A  A  A

Ask a dietetics expert: Eating to shake winter's grip

A sought-after nutrition expert, Christine Palumbo '75 (center) was recently on the set of WCIU-TV's "You and Me This Morning" show in Chicago.
A sought-after nutrition expert, Christine Palumbo '75 (center) was recently on the set of WCIU-TV's "You and Me This Morning" show in Chicago.
Photo supplied

Although the spring meltdown is underway, winter is not quite done with us yet. So how do you remain healthy when Jack Frost overstays his welcome, and the temptation to snack and stay indoors looks more alluring than outdoor exercise?

The latest "Ask a Dietetics Expert" Q & A features Christine Palumbo '75, an award-winning nutrition speaker, writer and consultant.  She addresses how to eat to shake off the winter blues, combat dry skin and boost your immune system.

It can be challenging to stay positive when winter just seems to drag on! How can we eat right to beat the blues?

Consume the same diet that’s good for heart health — a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and a variety of protein sources including lean beef, cold-water fish and legumes.

Proper nutrition is important to the production of neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals that help messages get passed between nerve cells in the brain. An imbalance of neurotransmitters has been implicated in mental health. Amino acids — the building blocks of protein — are the precursors to neurotransmitters. Vitamins and minerals also play a role in their conversion.

One neurotransmitter is serotonin, which regulates mood, anger and aggression, appetite and some cognitive functions. There can be a shortage of serotonin due to an insufficiency of the amino acid tryptophan. Although tryptophan is widely distributed in protein-rich foods, such as meats, poultry and fish, other amino acids in those foods interfere with the entry of tryptophan into the brain. The brain is then not able to make adequate serotonin.

By eating a balanced diet that also contains healthy carbohydrates, tryptophan can get into the brain where it’s converted into serotonin.

Do you have eating tips for combating dry skin?

If drinking buckets of water has had no effect on your dry skin this winter, there may be a reason for that. In spite of advice in women’s magazines, there is little to no research to back up the often-repeated advice to drink water for dry skin.

If you were one of those lucky teens to somehow escape the ravages of acne due to a normal or slightly dry skin texture, you may be suffering from extremely dry skin now. Or if you were a teen with overly oily skin suffering from frequent breakouts, it’s payback time. Your skin may not be as dry as some of your colleagues.

What can you do to improve your dry skin during the heating season?

  • Moisturize from within by consuming vegetable and fish oils such as olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and foods rich in healthy fats such as salmon, sardines, tuna, walnuts, almonds, pistachios and hazelnuts.
  • Moisturize your skin while it’s still damp after your morning shower and moisturize your face and hands prior to going to bed. I love Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream. A tip is to pull on cotton gloves after applying it liberally at night. 
  • Always wear gloves when you’re outside in the cold.
  • Humidify the air you live in.
  • Eating a healthy, well-rounded diet can be the best recipe for healthy skin.

Winter sometimes brings out the desire for comfort foods. What's a healthier way to meet our gravy fix?

The urge for comfort foods is personal. One person’s gravy comfort fix is another’s macaroni and cheese or big bowl of ice cream. We crave foods that provide instant gratification that tend to be highly processed and loaded with starch, sugar, salt and fat.

You can still get a comfort fix by practicing “mindful eating” rather that emotional eating. That is, control your behavior and use moderation and portion control.

Home cooking can also temper the fat and calorie level. For example, if you crave French fries or fried chicken, make them at home. You can control the fat and calorie content, and you may actually lose your desire once you contemplate all the steps from food purchase to cleanup. Or rather than keep your buddies “Ben” and “Jerry” in your freezer, make a special trip out in the cold to meet up with them. Chances are you might change your mind.

With long winters comes prolonged illness. How can we eat to boost our immune systems?

Increase your consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains (fiber-rich plants boost a greater volume and diversity of microorganisms in your digestive tract offering better defense against disease-causing invaders); consume foods high in probiotics (good bacteria) such as yogurt with live cultures or kefir; and mushrooms.

Keep in mind that the synergy of nutrients contained in an overall well-balanced diet work in unison to provide immunity-boosting benefits.

Other tips include having an upbeat personality, avoiding long-term stress, sleeping well and exercise moderately (training for a marathon is actually linked to decreased immunity).

About Christine Palumbo '75

Palumbo writes the "Good Sense Eating" column for Chicago Parent and five New York City-based family publications and is a contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition. She has spoken at numerous national nutrition and health conferences and frequently presents corporate wellness programs in the Chicagoland area. A nationally recognized expert in her field, Palumbo has appeared on numerous media outlets including Oprah andCNN.

In 2012, Palumbo received a St. Catherine University Alumnae Award, given to outstanding graduates who demonstrate leadership, service, professional excellence and the ideals of the University.

Other "Ask a dietetics expert" articles:

Eating healthy on a dime featuring Debra Barone Sheats ’75

Maintaining energy during midterms featuring Brooke Schneider Dorma '08

Facebook icon  Share on Facebook

March 14, 2014 by Sharon Rolenc

See also: Alumnae/i, Healthcare, Leadership