Q. In the winter season, why is it that many people feel extremely cold while others don't? Are there any particular foods that assist in increasing body heat in the winter season? Are blood sugar levels an important factor? I have noticed diabetics with high sugar levels sitting in an air conditioned room during winters?
Everyone has fat and muscle in their body. Some people have more fat than others. In particular, the average female has a higher percentage of body fat than the average male of the same age. This makes a difference in how people perceive cold. Women have more body fat than men, as a percentage of body weight, and less muscle. The average 30-year old woman's body is 26 percent fat, while a man of the same age has just 21 percent fat, with more muscle. As a result, the mans body will be generating more heat, all other factors being equal, than the womans. On the other hand, women have more insulation due to the layer of fat.
All animal foods fall into the warming category, including lean dairy, meat, fish and poultry. Whole-grain cereals, proteins and healthy fats too provide much-needed energy to keep warm. The most warming vegetables that support your body are the root vegetables like carrot, potato, onions, garlic, radish, yams, sweet potatoes, beets, turnips, etc, and hearty winter greens like palak, methi, sarson, muli, pudina, etc.
Remember that any vegetable that takes time to grow, and in which the edible part grows beneath the surface of the ground is usually considered warm/hot and a good vegetable to eat in winter. Certain dry fruits (dates), nuts and oilseeds (sesame seeds) are also considered warm/hot. It is also a time of the year when you may want to eat more spices than in the summer months.
Foods to feel warm in Winters
Root Vegetables - Carrots, white radish, onion and garlic (dry and spring varieties): Rich in isothiocyanates and indoles, phytochemicals that help prevent cancer. Their strong flavour helps to pep up the taste of food. Potatoes and yams: Help to provide much-needed energy.
Leafy greens - Methii, Palak, Sarson... (methi-theplas, sarson-ka-saag, palak paneer): A good source of beta-carotene and Vitamin C - both powerful antioxidants that help fight disease and build immunity. Others in this category are coriander, amaranth, celery, radish greens, etc.
Other vegetables - Green beans (broad beans, valol, papdi) and peas: Form a part of high energy and high-protein vegetables.
Whole Grain Cereals and Pulses - High energy and protein foods provide the required fuel to combat the cold. Thats why many Indian households make sheera (rava, whole-wheat flour, moong-dal, vermicelli, daliaa, badam); halwa (gajar, doodhi, pumpkin); paak and ladoos. Fresh green fresh whole grains, available in Gujarat, called ponkh are considered a winter delicacy. Makai and bajra rotis have the warmth-giving quality.
Fresh and Dried Fruits - Papaya and pineapple are believed to provide warmth. Amla is loaded with Vitamin C, and is very good to step up your immunity. Thats the reason why amla juice and amla muraba are available in plenty during winter. Dates are warm in nature and are highly recommended in the winter months. Not only are they a good source of fibre, iron, magnesium, calcium and vitamins (C and B3), they are also a good source of energy. Consume them as they are or as a barfi, pulp or in milk.
Spices - Mustard, asafoetida (hing), black pepper, fenugreek, ajwain and suva (dill) seeds are all warm spices to be used freely. Mustard, ajwain and suva seeds are a valuable remedy for winter coughs and flu, stimulating appetite and digestion and increasing blood circulation. Methi (dry or sprouted) is very beneficial in bone and joint problems that surface more in winter. Turmeric, especially the fresh light and golden yellow variety (resembles ginger), is a potent anti-microbial immunity builder.
Herbs and Seeds - Basil (tulsi) is a herb that protects against colds and fever and helps strengthen immunity. Ginger, (fresh and dry varieties) is very warming. Sliced ginger with lime and salt is a common accompaniment with meals, while ginger can be added to tea, dals and vegetables. Dry ginger powder made into tiny ladoos with jaggery and ghee is excellent for combating winter chills. Til ladoos and til chikki need no introduction to an Indian. The warmth-giving quality of til or sesame is also tapped when you sprinkle them on salads, breads, pastas and pizzas.
Winter is the best season to improve immunity. During this time, people feel hungrier. Amazingly, foods are better digested in winter, thus adding more nourishment to the body. Immunity-boosting foods are those that are fresh, organic, easy to digest, pure and wholesome. These include fresh vegetables and fruits/dry fruits, dairy products, nuts/oilseeds, whole grains/legumes and ghee. Besides these, some spices have anti-microbial properties that protect us from colds and infections. They also act to increase digestive enzymes and cellular metabolic function, and ensure complete assimilation of nutrients.
Blood sugar levels, as in the case of a diabetic, do not have much of a role in affecting our body’s ability to keep warm.