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Winter can be a tough time for eating healthy and staying in shape. The short days and miserable weather don't do much to encourage us to get out and exercise, and then there's all that heavy wintertime comfort food. We admit that sometimes we might be tempted to hide away in baggy winter clothes that can conceal any extra pounds we pack on instead of slipping into a pair of designer leggings. However, we also know that even though bathing suit season might seem like a distant dream, it will be back again before we know it along with regrets about any bad winter habits we picked up.

We stay motivated by ditching the sweatpants in favor of some cute leggings and adopting a healthy winter diet, and you can too. Below are some tips for how to adjust your mental wellness through your diet and how to build your self confidence in the kitchen even if you only have rudimentary cooking skills. We have assembled a list of some surprisingly nutritious foods that can help shake you out of your winter rut, but remember that forgiveness is an important part of staying healthy as well. We find that in the winter, while some days we want to put on our most durable leggings and hit the gym or the trail, there are also days when we can't quite muster the same amount of energy. Our bodies are primed to slow down and hibernate a little bit at this time of year, so try to cut yourself a break, love your booty and make the most of your opportunities for joy. And when you feel overwhelmed by trying to eat healthy and need some comfort food, take a look at our list. You might be surprised at what can be good for your body, your brain and your emotional state.

1. French fries

You might think you didn't hear that quite right, and while it's true that all the leg toning and thigh toning in the world won't make up for a daily habit of chowing down on a large order of fast food fries, there are plenty of ways to make french fries one of your healthy habits.

First, let's talk about the potato. In a low-carb-loving world, the potato has gotten an unfairly bad reputation as a source of empty calories and weight gain, but nothing could be further from the truth. Exact nutritional amounts vary depending on the type of potato you are eating, but you know those vitamin C tablets that some people swear by as a way to ward off colds in the winter? One medium-sized potato has as much as half or more of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin C. We absorb nutrients better through food than in pill form, so eat those potatoes to keep those winter colds at bay. Potatoes are also a great source of potassium and vitamin B-6, contain iron and other nutrients, and pack all that nutritional punch into just about 160 calories.

At this point, you might be wondering what could possibly be so bad about french fries if all this nutritional information about the potato is true. The answer is in how most french fries are processed and prepared. By the time what used to be a healthy potato bursting with vitamins and minerals has made it to you in the form of a fast food french fry, it's saturated in fat and sodium and has lost a lot of the nutrients. The way to make french fries healthy is to prepare them yourself, and the good news is that it isn't that difficult even for the cooking-challenged.

When you prepare the potatoes for cooking, do not peel them first since there are plenty of vitamins in that peel. Instead, simply wash them, slice them to the size you prefer and prepare them using either an air fryer or an oven. The air fryer should come with its own set of instructions. To cook them in an oven, drizzle them lightly with olive oil and toss them with whatever spices you like. Experiment to see what you find most tempting.

You can also make sweet potato fries as a variant. While sometimes perceived as significantly more nutritious than white potatoes, sweet potatoes simply have different nutritional benefits compared to white potatoes, and it would be hard to choose a clear winner between the two when it comes to good health.

More good news about potatoes and positive thinking is that some research has shown that they increase the feel-good chemicals serotonin and dopamine in your brain. It is believed that nutrients in potatoes can stimulate some of the same neurotransmitters as the medication that people are prescribed for depression does.

Keeping the joy in your life is an important element of staying motivated, and if french fries make you happy, this is a way to have them as more than just an occasional treat. In addition, if you do slip up every now and then and find yourself eating one of those high-salt, high-fat fast food orders of fries, forgiveness is in order. Nobody can be perfect all the time, and the great thing about learning to make your own healthy french fries is that you'll probably eventually start to prefer them over their unhealthier cousins.

2. Popcorn


Let's get the bad news out of the way first. Like fast food french fries, that butter-and-salt-laden movie theater popcorn will never be a healthy choice. And as much as you may love your booty, too much popcorn slathered in butter means your favorite designer leggings may not fit quite as well as you would like. The good news is that popcorn itself can be a healthy choice, and there are so many versatile ingredients you can add to flavor it that you might find you no longer miss those unhealthy additions.

You should steer clear of microwave popcorn as well. Although research is not definitive, there is evidence that the chemicals in the bag itself can leach into the popcorn and may be harmful.

The healthiest way to prepare and eat popcorn is by simply buying the kernels and air-popping them. You can get a popcorn popper if you are going to make snacking on it a regular habit, but all you really need is a pot that is tall enough to give the kernels room to move around and some oil.

Nutritional yeast can give your popcorn a great nutty, cheesy flavor. You could also add chili powder or a hot sauce to give it some kick. If you don't spend much time in the kitchen and are wondering how to build your self confidence as a healthier cook, popcorn is an easy way to start and a fun way to experiment with different tastes.

Since popcorn is a low-glycemic food, it can help keep your serotonin levels steady, and that means keeping your mood steady. Just 3 1/2 ounces contains 15 grams of fiber, making it one of the best sources of fiber out there. It is also a rich source of manganese, magnesium and phosphorus, and it contains plenty of antioxidants. Another great advantage of popcorn is that it can satisfy that snacking urge that you might have been quelling with potato chips or other unhealthy choices.

Popcorn is also a great food when you want to make the most of your opportunities to get a little down time on cold winter nights. A warm blanket, a good movie, some herbal tea or another healthy drink, and a big bowl of air-popped popcorn while you lounge at home in a pair of cute leggings can help you unwind into the relaxed head space that promotes positive thinking and helps empower you.

3. Lean red meat

You've probably heard that red meat is bad for you, and it's true that you shouldn't make a habit of eating burgers all the time. However, in moderation, red meat that is lean and high in quality can be a great source of vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6, zinc, phosphorus and more. It is also one of the best sources of iron, just behind some types of seafood. This is important because many women are deficient in iron, and that deficiency can lead to anemia. Being low in iron can result in fatigue and depression, but the boost you'll get from red meat can give you the energy to don your most durable leggings and dance the night away or wake up early for that sunrise yoga session.

Red meat is also an excellent source of protein, and this is an important nutrient for building muscles. You need protein for leg toning, thigh toning and all those exercises that will make you love your booty even more in a pair of designer leggings.

One of the dangers of red meat is that it can be high in unsaturated fat, but it can still absolutely be part of a healthy winter diet. It is important to make wise selections. If it's steak you love, try to stick with cuts that have less fat. These include filet mignon, flank steak and sirloin.

How you prepare red meat is also important. Skip the butter- and cream-based sauces and stick with olive oil and simple, clean flavors. Keep your portions of red meat small, and make sure that your plate is mostly vegetables. If you are unfamiliar with cooking red meat and wondering how to build your self confidence, don't panic. Although you may pay a premium for it in restaurants, steak is actually relatively simply to cook, and with some practice, you'll be able to make it just the way you like it. You can also make lean ground beef dishes like chili healthier by increasing the amount of beans and vegetables and decreasing the amount of meat. Cheaper cuts of lean red meat can be cooked for a long time in a healthy stew with a lot of vegetables until they are tender.

In winter, you may have a tendency to crave red meat in comparison to summer when you may want lighter dishes. Now, you can feel free to indulge in red meat as part of a healthy winter diet. If you're still worried about the calories from red meat, put on your most durable leggings and go for a run. Not only will it burn some calories, but it will boost your mood.


4. Pizza

Pizza may be one of the most unexpected suggestions on a list of surprisingly nutritious foods. As with french fries, when you think of pizza, you might think of the most unhealthy version, a pizza with high-fat toppings, extra cheese and enough oil to soak the delivery box. But pizza doesn't have to be like that. In fact, pizza in Italy is a light dish with a thin crust and only a few toppings. Luckily, you don't have to go all the way to Italy to enjoy a healthy pizza.

Learning to make your own pizza might be a little ambitious in comparison to some of the suggestions above, but the good news is that you don't have to in order to take advantage of the nutritious potential of pizza. The key with pizza is its versatility. You don't have to eat pizza laden with processed meat and cheese. Instead, choose vegetable toppings and little or no cheese. If you have the option of a whole wheat crust, choose that over the regular type of crust.

Almost any food can go on a pizza, so choose toppings that will boost your mood. Research on how to adjust your mental wellness through your diet is still in its early stages, but some evidence suggests that greens, chicken and turkey are among the foods that can help your brain produce healthy chemicals for a more positive outlook. As a bonus, they also have plenty of nutrients that will make your body feel better as well.

We said you wouldn't have to do any cooking with this one, but you can if you want to. We don't expect you to start spinning pizza dough around like a pro, but you can buy healthy pizza crust mixes that don't have preservatives or other unhealthy additives and are vegan and gluten-free as well. With these mixes, making your own pizza is almost as easy as picking up the phone and dialing for delivery.


5. Frozen vegetables

We love the idea of eating the freshest food possible throughout the year, and you probably do too. Unfortunately, the reality doesn't always live up to the fantasy. While there are some great winter vegetables out there, including such nutritional powerhouses as broccoli, kale and sweet potatoes, there are plenty of others that may not be available or might only be poor in quality. Despite that, you might be choosing fresh out-of-season vegetables over frozen or bypassing the opportunity to eat some vegetables in the winter altogether because you assume that frozen vegetables are nutritionally deficient.

This is actually not the case. Frozen spinach, peas and other vegetables can be surprisingly nutritious foods, and sometimes, they might even be better for you than fresh vegetables. The issue is one of how quickly nutrients are depleted. We'd eat nothing but fresh vegetables plucked moments ago from the garden if we could, but that's hardly realistic even for the most avid gardeners. Some vegetables start to lose nutrients within the first day or two or being picked. That means by the time they have been picked, processed, delivered to your supermarket and placed on the shelf, they might not have all the nutrients in them you'd expect. On the other hand, frozen food is picked at the peak of its freshness and flash frozen so that the nutrients are preserved.

Many people prefer the taste of fresh vegetables to frozen, and there are certain dishes that frozen vegetables are not appropriate for. However, if you find that vegetables tend to go bad before you can use them or that you are eating fewer fruits and vegetables in the winter because your favorites are unavailable, you might consider giving frozen vegetables a try.

There are a lot of misconceptions about healthy eating out there, and when new studies appear to contradict what we were told to do nutritionally just a few years ago, it can feel like healthy eating, no matter what season it is, is just too hard. However, there are a few nutritional principles that do not seem to waver and that we can use to build healthy habits. Among them are eating a variety of foods, eating a lot of fruit and vegetables and avoiding too much processed food. Ultimately, if you want to know how to adjust your mental wellness through your diet, keep in mind that food should be a source of joy and not stress. Unless you have specific dietary needs or restrictions, it is best to focus on eating many different types of food with moderation in everything and a sense of forgiveness for yourself when you don't make the healthiest choices. Health is about more than just always doing the right thing for your body. It is also about keeping your mind and emotions healthy through loving yourself and positive thinking throughout the entire year.