Why Chilly Weather Really Causes Carb Cravings

As it turns out, you can blame evolution for your tendency to overeat during the winter months…well, sort of. As experience has taught us, the cold weather brings with it an unusually strong urge to overindulge. And if you’ve ever wondered whether or not it was just you who had a hankering for carbs during chilly weather, it definitely isn’t.

In fact, there are many reasons why we may go a little carb crazy in the winter. One reason is our natural drive to maintain body fat, especially during the winter months; which is historically the most difficult time to find food. However, there may be a more fitting explanation for why we crave carbs with Jack Frost nipping at our noses—comfort.

Why do we crave extra comfort?

Winter not only brings colder temperatures, it also brings shorter days. With less daylight, many individuals experience a type of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

So, what causes SAD? It is believed that less sunlight and shorter days are linked to a chemical change in the brain. One of the most notable changes is an increased production of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone. When it’s dark the body naturally makes more melatonin to help you sleep or wind down for the night. So, when the days are shorter and darker, more melatonin is naturally made. The higher production of melatonin can lead to the following:
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Increased Sleep and Daytime Drowsiness
  • Irritability and Mood Swings

What’s the cold–carb connection?

When we’re feeling sluggish and sleepy we’ll turn to just about anything to get an extra boost of energy. Enter carbs.

In addition to being simply delicious, carbs have mood and energy boosting properties. Carbs provide a simple fix—sugar—which gives our bodies more energy. They also support the production of serotonin, which improves mood.

Of course, it isn’t just improved mood and energy levels that we seek out through carbs; the comforting component also drives our cravings. Why? We associate many carb-rich favorites, like mashed potatoes, cookies and green bean casserole, with positive memories, emotions and experiences. They’re familiar to us and familiarity is comforting.

Furthermore, carbs are also appealing simply because it’s cold outside. If the sound of warm pasta, freshly baked bread, or gooey cookies has you drooling, you may be seeking out the warmth these foods offer. A warm brownie in the winter is the equivalent of an ice cream cone in the summer. It just makes you feel good inside.

How can we make the most of these cravings?

You don’t have to completely cut out carbs this winter to avoid compromising your health. Try these easy substitutions to get your carb fix:
  • Swap out refined grain products with whole-grain versions. For instance, choose brown rice or whole-wheat pasta varieties.
  • Add some barley or quinoa to your favorite soup.
  • When baking, substitute whole-wheat flour for up to half of the required regular flour.
  • Bread chicken, veal, or fish with rolled oats or crushed whole-grain cereal.

Establishing a nutritious and balanced diet is difficult, especially during the winter months. But making small, everyday changes, like incorporating more whole-grains into your diet, supports your overall health and wellbeing.

Keep in mind, though, that eating healthy shouldn’t be stressful; there are easy ways to make it fun. Try new recipes, or utilize the expertise of a dietitian to find the right nutrition plan for you. To ensure that you are feeling your best, the nutrition experts at Gwinnett Medical Center will work with you to design a diet that fulfills all of your unique nutritional needs.


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