All the excitement of December can lead to a lackluster introduction to the New Year.
By the time mid-January rolls around, I’m ready to hibernate. With less daylight and cooler temperatures, my energy reserves – and motivation – run on low. That’s why, come January, it’s important to remind ourselves to strive for nourishment in every bite.
Food plays a starring role in energy level and mood, and mealtime decisions can influence physical and emotional balance throughout the winter months.
Of course, proper sleep and exercise should not be forgotten. Nutritionist and registered dietitian Alene Baronian, wellness coach with Los Altos-based Eat 2 Perform, said that the many different ways we treat our bodies are pieces of a large puzzle.
Proper hydration and plenty of rest are important complements to exercising and eating well, according to Baronian, and the journey for balance should not exclude any of them.
“Being active as many days of the week as possible is critical,” she said.
Baronian offers practical ways to encourage sustained winter energy through nutrition choices. Combining a healthful and active lifestyle with naturally delicious foods should help you spring out of the January funk.
• Seasonal produce. Surprisingly, winter isn’t as barren as many believe. Gardens burst with cold-weather fruits and vegetables that supply the body with energy in its purest form. Rich in fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, they provide a steady source of fuel and can increase immunity.
“Try to buy local and get as much variety as possible,” Baronian suggested.
Check farmers’ markets and organic produce suppliers for the best the season has to offer.
• Dark chocolate. Bars with at least 75 percent cacao content contain more cocoa phenols, which studies show can improve mood and energy. A 2006 study by the Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition suggests that the stimulants in chocolate increase activity of neurotransmitters and release endorphins into the brain.
• Iron-rich foods. Lean meats; legumes like lentils, black beans and chickpeas; quinoa (see recipe), spinach and Swiss chard are great sources of iron, the lack of which can cause fatigue.
• Quality protein. To stay energized, eat cold-water fatty fish like salmon and Albacore tuna, or lean meats like turkey, pork and chicken.
“Protein assists in keeping us full for a longer period of time,” Baronian advised.
Nuts, especially almonds, walnuts and cashews, contain both protein and magnesium, a nutrient necessary in the production of energy.
This month’s morsel: Let power foods rule. Toss grapefruit slices into a refreshing salad with pistachios and fennel, or spruce up your favorite quick-bread recipe with any citrus zest. A side dish of thyme-roasted brussels sprouts complements lean meat and salmon wonderfully. Keep a handful of nuts in the car or in a purse or backpack for an on-the-go energy boost, and don’t forget to indulge healthfully in a bit of dark chocolate any time of day.
By choosing more of these power foods daily, you’ll bounce back from the January blues and be on your way to balance in no time.
• 1 cup quinoa, cooked according to package directions (2 cups cooked)
• 1 tablespoon orange zest
• 1/3 cup dried cherries
• 1/3 cup shelled pistachios
• 3-4 tablespoons bottled poppyseed dressing, or to taste
• Black pepper, freshly ground
• Salt, to taste
In medium saucepan, boil 2 1/2 cups water and season lightly with salt. Add quinoa, reduce heat to low and stir. Partially cover and simmer gently until water is absorbed.
Once cooked, fluff with fork and allow quinoa to cool slightly. Transfer to large bowl, add remaining ingredients and toss to combine. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Can be served at room temperature or chilled. Keeps for two days in refrigerator.
Makes 2 servings.
Sarah Manning is a Los Altos resident who blogs weekly about her gastronomic adventures. To read her food blog, visit www.thechocolatefigSF.com.