Wondering what to eat when it is cold outside? The best winter foods help to promote balance in times of cold weather.
Temperature regulation can be a real challenge for aging adults. So, it is important for seniors to eat foods that encourage healthy thermoregulation.
Overall, the best winter foods are both warm and nourishing. They offer nutrients but also help keep older adults cozy and healthy in the cold weather.
But what are the best cold-weather foods and winter nutrition tips for seniors? Learn how to keep health at the forefront when the weather chills here!
Body Temperature Changes and Aging
Heat or cold intolerances are actually part of the aging process. This is due to a very scientific reason and not just “old age”. As a person ages, their body distribution and possibly even their core body temperature changes.
This means key players in body temperature regulation, such as body fat percentage, muscle mass, skin, and sweat glands, also change. These changes influence thermoregulation (thermal regulation), which is the way that the body maintains temperature balance.
This may sound like a small task, however, it is key for survival. The body temperature system is tightly controlled and nutrients are a key part of supporting it. Poor thermoregulation can be related to the following organs or system impairments as the body has to work harder:
- Heart and circulatory system: increased heart rate, increased cardiac output, intravascular volume depletion
- Brain: ischemia, edema
- Gastrointestinal tract: increased vulnerability to hemorrhage and infection due to increased permeability (“barrier breakdown”) of the intestinal mucosa (intestine walls)
- Lungs (respiratory system): acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) or impairment, such as in the case of hyperventilation, hyperpnea, pulmonary vasodilation
- Kidneys: increased risk of renal failure due to intravascular volume depletion and impaired circulation
- Liver: cells suffer in the case of fever, ischemia, and inflammation
- Other: electrolyte imbalances, hypoglycemia, metabolic acidosis, and respiratory alkalosis can also be related to imbalances in body heat and overall temperature.
Other Concerns For Seniors When Cold Weather Comes
The cold weather comes with challenges for older adults. A quick trip to the grocery store can quickly turn dangerous when winter comes. Icy roads may present a barrier to fresh food when it gets too cold outside.
For seniors, eating fresh fruits and vegetables often seems more natural in the summer. With sunlight hours dwindling and daily routines shifting, appetites can change, too. As it turns out, fresh food is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer.
Key Winter Nutrients for Health & Energy
Everyone needs all essential nutrients and “vitamin” shares a root with the word “vital” for a reason. Nutrient deficiencies, especially in cases of scurvy, vitamin B12 deficiency, and folate, can greatly affect how the body balances its internal temperature.
Also since health is individual, it is important to consult a healthcare specialist about specific nutrients an elderly person may need. For example, certain conditions like neurodegenerative and thyroid diseases can increase the risk of poor thermoregulation with age.
Overall, though, a few nutrients need to be part of the diet to help support a balanced body temperature. Learn which nutrients are vital for seniors, including vitamins for energy in the winter months and even year-round.
Conditions like ARDS, where the lungs cannot provide oxygen to the body’s vital organs, can become more common in the winter. Related conditions like pneumonia, the flu, or chest injuries can also increase the risk of inflammation in the lungs.
Iron is an important nutrient that helps deliver blood throughout the body. In the winter, it is extra important as the aging body may have to work harder to maintain balance.
Common sources of iron include:
- Dark chocolate
- Lean meats like poultry (i.e. turkey or chicken)
- Liver and other organ meats
- Pumpkin seeds
- Shellfish and fish
Winter for older adults often means they are more susceptible to infection. Poor regulation of body temperature or conditions like gastrointestinal infection can increase the risk of other related health concerns. The following seasonal plant sources of vitamin C are great for helping promote immune health in the winter:
- Citrus fruit (i.e. lemon, limes)
- Grapefruit and grapefruit juice
- Kiwifruit (Kiwi)
- Oranges and orange juice
- Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams
B vitamins are crucial to foster a strong metabolism and energy levels. Vitamin B12 in particular, also known as cobalamin, is crucial to creating new red blood cells. Older people are especially prone to deficiency of this vitamin because the ability to absorb it decreases with age.
Vitamin B12 is present in animal products – like meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish – with lesser amounts in dairy products and eggs.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are also known as “healthy” fats. Fats are one nutrient that helps to promote a feeling of fullness. With changing routines in the winter, and possibly changing appetites, getting full from nutrient-dense foods can help seniors stay healthy.
Omega-3’s are primarily sourced by:
- Fatty fish, including anchovy, tuna, herring, rainbow trout, and halibut.
- Pumpkin seeds
- Olive oil and other plant oils
A primary care provider can help determine whether or not an omega-3 supplement is beneficial.
Top Winter Nutrition Tips for Seniors
Staying balanced and on top of health goals in the winter may seem not-so-simple. The following tips can help seniors to have a healthy season despite the cold weather.
1. Focus on Lean Protein & Iron-Rich Foods
Lean protein accompanied by iron-rich foods can help to promote the building of muscle (no matter the age). Pair yummy recipes with everyday resistance training for the best results.
Start the day out right with recipes like heart-healthy eggs benedict made with Greek yogurt.
2. Balance the Diet with “Healthy” Fats
As mentioned above, “healthy” fats help older adults to feel full. Especially with reduced appetites in the winter, the following foods can be great choices to add to the diet.
3. Really Dig Into Root Vegetables
Root vegetables are in season during winter and are at their nutritional peak. Try incorporating nutritious root veggies into the diet, such as beets, butternut squash, carrots, parsnips, and yams.
4. Do Not Shy Away from Salads
Most people associate salads with summer. However, winter salads made with seasonal foods can be packed full of nutrients.
Leafy greens, in particular, can provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to the diet. Other fibrous, leafy green options include chard and spinach.
5. Consume Some Citrus
Excellent for supporting the immune system, vitamin C in citrus can help seniors stay well. Top sources of citrus include grapefruit, oranges, and pineapple.
6. Supplement with Vitamin D as Needed
Since sunlight is the main source of vitamin D, levels can decline in the winter. Talk with a dietitian about supplementing with vitamin D.
In addition, include the following foods as part of the diet to elevate levels of vitamin D:
- Fortified milk
- Whole grains (right below for ideas!)
7. Whip Up Some Whole Grains
Whole grains are a nutritional powerhouse. They contain a plethora of nutrients, including fiber, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants like vitamin E, phytochemicals, and B vitamins. Some great choices to explore include:
8. Serve Small, Frequent Meals
For seniors, it can be hard to manage eating three full meals. To help regulate blood sugar and keep a regular weight, try eating five to six small meals each day. Select nutrient-rich foods from each food group to make the most of meals.
9. Hydrate Even Though It’s Not Hot
The body still needs water in the winter, and aging bodies may need even more. The winter weather means the elderly are braving the elements. Drinking enough fluids along with eating hydrating foods is important for optimal health in the winter.
10. Try Seasonal Spiced Recipes
Favorite comforts foods can receive a nutrient upgrade for winter. For example, a lightened up lasagna with hints of nutmeg can be perfect for helping the elderly warm-up on dark winter nights. Herbs, like those included in Italian seasoning, are also in season during the wintertime.
11. Warm Up with Spicy Foods
Spicy foods have been linked to longevity. For those who like it hot, add some bell peppers, cayenne powder, or other peppers to seasonal recipes. Stews, soups, and chilis generally do great when some high-heat ingredients are added.
12. Hydrate with Sips and Soups
Thirst reflexes can decrease with age, so it is extra important to be mindful of fluid consumption. Drinking plenty of water-rich beverages or warm-weather soups and stews can be a perfect, seasonal way to encourage adequate hydration. Try chicken tortilla stew today!
13. Add Nutrient-Rich Calorie Options
Calories can be hard to come by as aging adults often deal with unwelcome weight loss. Some special foods to help maintain weight while contributing calories include:
- Cottage cheese
- Olive oil
- Peanut butter
- Whole milk
Overall, try to add nutrient-rich calorie ingredients to various recipes. For instance, mashed potatoes can be bulked with butter and whole milk.
On the flip side, add a touch of health to those favorite calorically-dense foods. Ideas include tossing veggies into mac and cheese or
A Final Word on Healthy Winter Foods for Seniors
The bottom line? Try to not overthink it!
Support seniors in enjoying nutritious foods – including a balance of protein, fiber, and healthy fat – to stay healthy and warm in the winter season.
5 Winter Nutrition Suggestions for Seniors. Elder Care Connection. Published October 20, 2021. https://elderlymanagement.com/winter-nutrition/.
Acute respiratory distress syndrome. NHS. Published March 12, 2020. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/acute-respiratory-distress-syndrome/.
Cold Weather Safety for Older Adults. NIH National Institute on Aging (NIA). Published January 1, 2018. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/cold-weather-safety-older-adults.
Dodd K. 7 Key Nutrients for Senior Nutrition. The Geriatric Dietitian. Published February 14, 2020. https://thegeriatricdietitian.com/7-key-nutrients-for-senior-nutrition/.
Giancoli A, Ellis E. 5 Whole Grains to Keep Your Family Healthy. Eat Right. Published September 30, 2021. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/five-grains-to-keep-your-family-healthy.
Klemm S. What Are B-Vitamins? Eat Right. Published January 15, 2021. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/what-are-b-vitamins-and-folate.
Osilla EV, Marsidi JL, Sharma S. Physiology, Temperature Regulation. [Updated 2021 May 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507838/.
Spritzler F. 12 Healthy Foods That Are High in Iron. Healthline. Written January 27, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/healthy-iron-rich-foods.
Weeks A. Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid). Anni Weeks. Published February 3, 2021. https://www.anniweeks.com/post/vitamin-c-ascorbic-acid.
Whole Grains. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/whole-grains/.
Why Does Your Body Temperature Change as You Age? Cleveland Clinic. Published November 24, 2020. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-does-your-body-temperature-change-as-you-age/.
Winter (Seasonal Produce). USDA Snap-Ed Connection. https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/seasonal-produce-guide/winter.
Winter Nutrition Tips for Seniors. Newcastle Place. Published 2021. https://newcastleplace.com/blog/winter-nutrition-tips-for-seniors/.