There is a big difference between what and how much food the body needs and what the mind craves for in winter

The onset of winter makes us crave for spicy foods with an extra dash of fat. Fried ‘mirchis', ‘dal' with ghee, buttered curries, and frequent trips to the canteen for hot samosas and tea are the order of the season.

Unfortunately, comfort food can be quite fattening, and the added reluctance to exercise in cold weather means most people put on weight in winter.

There is a big difference between what and how much food the body needs and what the mind craves for in winter. Yes, cold weather demands extra calories to keep warm, but like the extra calorie needs of pregnancy (a mere 10 % extra calories will suffice), the energy requirements of summer and winter are not poles apart. This, after all, is India, where most regions have mild and sunny winters. Pigging out is only for the freezing northern reaches of the country.

Strictly speaking, spicy foods and alcohol do not warm up the body- even though you may sweat after consuming them.

Spicy food stimulates pain receptors on the tongue; an autonomic response dilates the blood vessels in the skin. This causes LOSS of body heat in the form of sweat.

Alcohol has a similar end effect. Again, this does not mean that alcohol and spicy foods are bad for you in winter. Maybe the opening up of the sweat pores and loss of body heat could harm you at the North Pole, but not in India.

The fruits in season (apple, custard apple, dates, etc), spicy and low fat snacks, nuts, tea, coffee, hot chocolate and an alcoholic drink or two are ideal comfort foods in winter.

Eating out occasionally is not bad, but watch out for the trans-fat laden snacks. ‘Mirchis' and samosas prepared in roadside joints tend to be cooked in re-heated oil or lard that is rich in artery-clogging trans-fats. If you must have ‘mirchis' or ‘pakoras', make them at home with fresh oil.

Water is the most neglected nutrient in winter.

The cold, dry air draws water away from the body. Sip water at regular intervals throughout the day.

There is no evidence that eating ice cream is more harmful in winter. It all depends on the bacteria/ virus content of the food and the weather makes little difference.

(The author is a specialist in Internal Medicine)

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