Winter food myths busted

A delicious ham and vegetable soup... but does it warm our bodies, or our heads?
A delicious ham and vegetable soup... but does it warm our bodies, or our heads?

After a cold winter's day in Canberra, there's nothing quite like that warming feeling you get from a bowl of vegetable soup, porridge with honey, and other things cosy and culinary.

As you walk through the early frost to the car after work or sit through a cold bus trip home, the thought of a hearty meal to melt away the chill can be a huge comfort.

But does food actually help to warm us when we're cold?

Professor Boyd Swinburn of the School of Health & Social Development at Deakin University says it's all a myth. No food, he says, is actually proven to warm the body.

"Our body temperature is regulated internally," he said

"Eating warm food may make you feel warm and cosy but it mainly will just give you a psychological boost, nothing else."

So what other winter food myths are we fooling ourselves with?

Spicy foods keep you warm

You would be hard pressed to find someone who hasn't desperately grabbed for a new jug of water in a Thai restaurant, when they have ordered a green curry that's just too hot.

Your face gets flushed, you begin to sweat and you realise you've been too ambitious with your ordering.

It's a phenomenon caused by a chemical found in chillies called capsaicin. Capsaicin triggers the heat sensors in your body and fools it into thinking you're somewhere hot. This in turn triggers your body's natural responses to heat, like sweating.

Unfortunately, it's not an effective way to stay warm.

Dietician and Nutritionist Kasey Bateup from Nutrition Australiap says the warmth you feel from spicy food is only fleeting.

"Whilst spicy food may give you a warming sensation, it is a fairly immediate effect," she said.

You need to eat more in winter to keep warm

It seems to have become quite socially acceptable to put on a few kilos in the winter time. It makes perfect sense - after all, our warm-blooded mammal friends do it for survival.

But according to those who know better, there is no reason to make yourself cuddlier this winter in order to beat the chill.

"There is no reason to be putting on weight in winter," Ms Bateup said.

"Consuming a balanced diet, with lean proteins, wholemeal and low G.I carbohydrates along with some good fats will mean that no, you won't put on weight."

Ms Bateup said the one thing we do need to do in winter is stay active.

"Even though it may be harder to get motivated we need to be still exercising for around 30 minutes a day," she said.

You need vitamin supplements in winter

Everyone has a 'home remedy' for the common cold and flu, and some swear by vitamin supplements as a way of warding off a winter lurgie.

But do they actually help?

Nutrition Australia nutritionist Leanne Elliston says probably not.

"I don't believe in vitamin supplements in winter," she said.

"If you eat lots of soups and curries with plenty of fresh vegetables, your body will be getting all the nutrients that it needs."

Ms Bateup agrees.

"The body absorbs nutrients and vitamins much better through food than supplements so by eating a balanced diet you will get all the nutrients you need."

This story Winter food myths busted first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.