Should you be eating more when it's cold?

Is winter a good excuse to eat a lot more? [Photo: Getty]

We’re always told to eat plenty of ‘hearty’ meals in winter, but does science back that thought up?

We investigated whether or not we actually need more calories to get us through those chilly nights…

Winter brings out your inner caveman

Your November carb cravings may have historical origins. “Long, long ago, winter was a hazardous time,” explains Dr Gill Jenkins. “Autumn’s harvest would dictate how much food was available throughout the colder months, and once those supplies were used up, additional resources were hard to come by unless you were very rich.”

Dr Jenkins says the pizza lust you’re currently experiencing may be “deeply ingrained” in your “biological makeup”. She explains: “It’s a survival impulse from an earlier time, when our bodies would have tried to store up all the calories they could to help us survive in times of scarcity.”

She adds: “This also explains why we crave foods that are rich in carbs, sugar and fat – our bodies are hoping to set aside enough stores to ensure we make it through the winter months, but nowadays for most of us in the UK, that’s really not necessary.” Pepperoni with extra mozzarella? Not necessary? Pffft.

Our bodies do burn more calories in cold air

Technically, your body’s effort to keep itself warm in a colder environment does burn calories.

“If the air around us is cold, then yes – we’re likely to burn more calories, as the body has to create more energy to keep warm,” says Dr Marilyn Glenville (www.marilynglenville.com), author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar. “But when we’re sitting inside our heated homes, offices or cars – as most of us do most of the time – then we’re probably not burning any more calories than we do in the warmer months.”

Your diet probably doesn’t need to change

Your body hitting back against cold air isn’t the only factor to consider when thinking about your winter meals.

“Because many of us are less active in winter than summer, it’s likely to be the other way around: we burn fewer calories in winter,” explains Dr Jenkins. “When cold weather makes your body temperature drop, you could feel an urge to eat more. The catch is, that if you respond to this urge by indulging in high-sugar, high-fat foods, you’re going to cause a spike in your blood sugar levels followed by a dip which will leave you feeling colder and hungrier than before – causing the entire cycle to start again, and you at risk of putting on weight due to excess calorie consumption.”

Our urges to eat more are drilled into us from a young age

According to Dr Jenkins, we learn from childhood to “associate winter with warm, heavy, rich dishes – the so-called “comfort foods” – rather than with salads and other lighter dishes”.

All in all, the answer is no, you don’t need to eat more in winter – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hog the mince pies if you want to. “In general, how many calories you burn depends on a lot, not just temperature,” says Dr Jenkins. “In fact, the difference caused just by the thermostat is probably pretty small, compared to the impact things like exercise and eating well makes.”

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