Author: Ashley Wentworth
Seasonal changes usually make us want to consider making changes in other parts of our lives to create that “fresh start” feeling. We often choose to make changes to our activity, nutrition, organization, wardrobe and more. Some of these changes help us simply recharge, and some are necessary—like changing out our winter boots for sandals when temperatures are higher.
Are changes in nutrition necessary during season changes? Let’s explore!
When spring rolls around, the days are getting longer and some of us winter hibernators may be starting to spend more time outside. Here are some things to consider for your nutrition when the sun is finally showing its face again.
Getting enough vitamin D, essential for bone health and many other functions, may not be as much of a concern in the spring as long as you’re spending time outside. Our bodies create vitamin D when exposed to the UVB rays of sunlight. There are a lot of variables involved in deciding how long you need to be outside to get the recommended amounts of vitamin D. Things like how far you live from the equator, your skin color, the season, and even the time of day can all affect how your body synthesizes vitamin D.
- In spring and summer months when more of your skin is likely exposed to the sun, you don’t need to spend as much time outside as you would in the winter when it is not as strong and your skin is more covered due to the cooler temperatures. Spending about 10-30 minutes in the sun a few days per week is thought to be enough for sufficient vitamin D levels.
- The time of day can affect how well we make vitamin D as well. In the middle of the day the UVB rays are stronger and it does not take as long to synthesize.
- Skin color can also affect our vitamin D. People with lighter skin manufacture vitamin D more quickly than people with darker skin. This means that people with darker skin need longer exposure to the UVB rays.
The sun is the best way to get vitamin D as there are not many foods that naturally contain it. As with most things regarding nutrition, it’s all about patterns! Vitamin D is stored in the body’s fat cells so it is not as important to be outside each day, but rather a few days per week. So take advantage of those sunny days!
Be sure to use caution with sunshine—too much of a good thing can be dangerous. Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight without proper application of sunscreen can lead to sunburn and increased risk of certain types of skin cancer.
Supplements* can also be a good source of vitamin D. Those who live in northern climates, have high risk of skin cancer, or have darker skin may benefit from vitamin D supplementation.
Cold and flu season tends to linger into spring when the temperatures can be variable during the day. See the Fall section for more immunity boosting information.
The days are long and the sun is strong. Don’t forget your sunscreen even on cloudy days since summer sun rays are much stronger than during other times of the year. Here are some things to pay attention to in summer months to keep your body healthy.
When temps are higher and we’re trying to keep up with the kids, we sweat more and lose more fluids and electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals that help maintain fluid balance, muscle contractions (including your heartbeat), and chemical reactions in our bodies. Electrolytes also play a large role in how we feel overall. If we lose too many electrolytes and fluids when it’s hot outside or through extreme exercise, we can experience:
- Neurological complications, like seizures
- Irregular heart beat
- Dark-colored urine
- Muscle cramps
Staying hydrated with plain water when you are losing fluids through perspiration is one of the best ways to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. But extreme levels of perspiration may require electrolyte replacement. You can find electrolytes in:
- Salty foods
- Drinks or drink powders infused with electrolytes/minerals
Whole Body Summer Support
Summer schedules are usually hectic! Most of us are on the go and trying to spend as much time outside as we can. Our skin and bodies can usually use some extra healing power during the summer.
According to Dr. Thaddeus Gala, here are some must haves to support your skin and body in the summer months:
- Antioxidants like fish oil and other omega 3 sources, vitamin C, and vitamin E are all anti-inflammatory and can help skin heal faster from sun damage and also help support your joints and muscles.
- Collagen works to repair joints and muscles, and is really what keeps your body held together. It can also help skin damaged from the sun heal faster.
- Biotin supports your hair and skin. So, like collagen and antioxidants, it can help repair damaged skin. Biotin also works to heal muscles.
Fall is like the perfect storm for germs. Temperatures are dropping, we’re spending more time indoors, and we’re gathering in crowds again for back-to-school and the start of the holiday season.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a lot of information and research on supplements and nutrients that support immunity. Nutrient deficiencies, even if you don’t have obvious symptoms, can often leave small holes in our immune system which bacteria and viruses can take advantage of. Here are the most common dietary sources and key players that work to regulate the immune system, fight off infections, and keep your immunity armor strong:
- Protein: Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, work directly to help fight germs.
- Vitamin A: eggs, organ meats, leafy greens, and orange and yellow vegetables
- Vitamin D: fortified milk, salmon, tuna fish, and cod liver oil
- Vitamin E: vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds
- Vitamin C: citrus fruits, tomato products, and potatoes
- Folate (a B vitamin): whole grains, leafy greens, fruits, nuts, beans, peas, seafood, eggs, dairy, and meats.
- Zinc (mineral): meat, fish, and seafood, eggs, and dairy
- Selenium (mineral): whole grains, dairy, fortified grain products like cereals, and some fruits and vegetables
- Magnesium (mineral): nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables, and whole grains
- Pre and probiotics: supporting our gut health can be a key factor in our immunity levels
- Probiotic food sources: Fermented foods for the win! Sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, tempeh, and other fermented foods contain helpful probiotics.
- Prebiotic food sources: Having a variety of plant foods like fruits, veggies, grains, and beans will help you get the prebiotics your gut needs. Bananas, garlic, onions, and more are all good sources.
What About Herbal Remedies?
There are a lot of herbal supplements on the market geared toward immunity, like garlic, echinacea, elderberry, and more. Most of these supplements and compounds need more research in human studies to be more specific in how they work to help our immune system and to determine safe and effective dosing.
Other lifestyle activities to consider to improve immunity include:
- Being sure to Include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and whole foods most of the time
- Getting enough rest
- Having a way to manage and cope with stress
- Moving your body most days
- Avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and other substances
- Hand washing
Many of us tend to lose steam in the winter months due to shorter days, less sunlight, and cold temperatures limiting our outdoor activities. And let’s face it, spending a lot of time inside with minimal sunshine can also leave us feeling restless, tired, and blah. Can a change in your nutrition help you avoid the winter blues? Here are some nutrients to consider in winter.
Many places in the Northern hemisphere do not get much sunlight in the winter and what sunlight there is has weak UVB rays that are unable to produce vitamin D in the body. Many medical professionals recommend a Vitamin D supplement during winter months. Talk to your healthcare practitioner about what dose is right for you.
If you think you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder or depression, reach out to your healthcare practitioner to discuss what treatment plan may be best for you.
If you’re feeling extra tired and you’re getting enough Vitamin D, see if you are getting enough of the following vitamins and minerals:
- B vitamins: meat, seafood, eggs, dairy, legumes, leafy greens, seeds, and fortified cereals and breads
- Iron: fortified cereals, beef, spinach, beans, oysters
- Vitamin C: citrus fruits, tomato products, and potatoes
- Magnesium: nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables, and whole grains
- Zinc: meat, fish, seafood, eggs, and dairy.
So, do you need to take different supplements during different seasons? Maybe! If you feel you may be lacking some of the nutrients discussed above, it may be worth looking into increasing food sources during season changes or considering a supplement*.
*This article is for educational purposes only. Always discuss supplements with your healthcare practitioner or a registered dietitian. There can be risks of having high levels of some vitamins, minerals, and supplements.
Author: Ashley Wentworth