The west coast winter months are already upon us and they will only get worse before they get better. Most of us tend to gain weight during the winter as we eat denser foods, are less active and our appetites and metabolisms shift with the change in light and temperature. Our vitamin D levels decline, our moods suffer, we sit inside more watching TV, we reach for comfort foods and our waists grow. You don’t have to let the cold weather affect you so much. There are ways to keep the winter blues and bulge away. It takes some dedication and paying attention to what you eat, but you can do it!

Let’s Check Sunlight - I know, this isn’t technically a food to talk about, but it is important. Scientists aren’t completely sure why or how yet, but vitamin D is linked to weight. People with higher levels tend to store less fat. On the better days, try to get about 20 minutes of sun exposure with your arms uncovered. You may also want to look into a supplement for a couple months.

We Need Water - Hydration is vital to the body’s function. Water is often overlooked when we aren’t out in the sun hiking, biking, running and sweating, but we need it during the colder months as well. This is especially true as heaters and fireplaces can dehydrate us pretty quick. Water also helps us feel fuller longer when we drink it with meals or even before.

Love Vegetable Soups - Soup is a comforting dish any time of year, but especially during the winter. Most vegetable soups are also very low in calories while providing plenty of warmth, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Tomato is my favorite and I have a tomato soup recipe see below, but there are many more to try. Don’t forget about vegetable stews and chilies too for a hearty way to stay warm and healthy.

Use Root Veggies - Your body craves carbohydrates during winter. Your metabolism is firing faster to keep your body temperature from dipping and your genetic history is telling you to prepare for famine. Carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and turnips will fill you up, provide the carbs your body craves and actually supply nutrition too. Roast them with garlic, onion, and a bit of olive oil to bring out fantastic flavors.

Enjoy Lentils or Beans - Beans and lentils are inexpensive, filling and stuffed with complex carbs. Lentils cook much faster than beans, so they make a very easy way to keep you feeling content this winter without waiting hours for your meals. Add them to soups, tacos, burritos, chili and even your stir fry.

Fall and Winter Produce - Some fruits and vegetables are best when harvested in the cooler season. Take advantage of these being at their best. Pomegranate, beets, Brussels sprouts, persimmon, kiwi, leeks, guava, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, cauliflower, lemons, oranges, parsnips, pears, turnips and winter squash are all exceptional this time of year. They are all also much better than the rich desserts we might reach for instead.

Good Fats - We don’t need a ton of fat and protein during the winter months, but a little of the best kinds goes a long way to keeping our brains working right, our hormones balanced and our metabolism humming. Avocado, coconut oil, nuts and nut butters, and all kinds of olives in moderation are a good thing to add to your cold weather diet.

Try Warming Spices - Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cayenne, turmeric, garlic and black pepper should all be used more often this time of year. They add color, flavor, warmth and powerful antioxidants to any meal. The health benefits of cinnamon, ginger and turmeric are also very impressive. Don’t forget the herbs either. Chive, cilantro, rosemary, parsley, oregano and mint tend to survive into the cold season and can liven up your dishes. Try my Tomato Soup too, you’ll like it.

Homemade Tomato Soup

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 inches of a large leek, sliced and rinsed

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 ribs celery, chopped

6-8 medium tomatoes, diced

2 medium carrots, chopped

12 ounces vegetable stock

2 tablespoons paprika

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon molasses

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon celery seed

1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder

Salt and pepper to taste

In a tall soup pan, heat the oil and sauté the leeks, garlic and celery until the leeks are golden and translucent. Add carrots, tomatoes, and raise heat to high. Stir for 5-10 minutes as the tomatoes soften and break down. Add vegetable stock, spices, vinegar and molasses and lower heat to medium. Simmer for at least 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Blend the soup with an immersion blender or allow it to cool slightly before blending it in a traditional blender or food processor in small batches. Garnish with a sprig of parsley or fresh herb of your choice.

This recipe is super easy and takes under 30 minutes to make. It can be frozen and saved for those winter months when good organic tomatoes are harder to come by and the warming comfort of tomato soup can do the most good, or eaten whenever you need a boost.

Yield: 4 servings