How to

5 December 2016

The Best Foods to keep You Warm

The process by which your body is able to make heat from food is called thermogenesis, and it’s fascinating. We’ve written about it before in some detail, but the basic principle is rather simple: the calories in food are essentially little units of energy which your body converts into heat (as well as other types of energy) through digestion. The more calories you take in, the warmer you’ll get. However, that’s just one of the many things to remember when you’re choosing warming food.  Here, let’s consider a few basic scientific principles as well as some recommended ‘superfoods’ for your delectation this winter.

Hot Food

It’s simple enough as a concept, but worth mentioning to begin with: if you consume hot foods, you’ll not only get warm quicker, but you’ll also end up getting warmer overall.

Two million years ago, cavemen didn’t just start cooking because it made their Pop Tarts taste better: it was also because doing so was much more efficient in survival terms. Whenever you eat, your body has to work to crush the food, absorb the calories, separate the nutrients and convert some of the total into heat. If you cook the food, you’re basically doing the hard work for your body before the food gets into your stomach.

So, in a sense, a cheese toastie is a half-digested cheese sandwich which requires less effort to digest and from which you get more health benefits (which is why you’ll also gain more weight if you eat the toasted variety instead of the cold). You could think of your body like a car: if you can warm up the engine before you get inside, you’ll be able to turn on the blowers straight away, and be warmer in the first two minutes than you otherwise would be.

Mushy Foods & Chewing

The notion of maximising the calories you can access brings another rule to our list: eat mushy if you can. This should maximise the energy you receive from the food, because your body doesn’t have to work so hard to break it down.

However, if keeping warm is your primary goal, remember: you do also generate heat from the muscular activity of your jaw chewing the food, as well as your internal organs (trachea, stomach, intestines and so forth) moving the food around, grinding it down and processing it. So, you don’t necessarily want to drink pure liquid, even if it’s full of glucose: not only will it keep your muscles dormant, you’ll only get empty, quick-burning calories which will fade fairly soon. Rather, it’s best to get your organs working to some extent, and eating something that resembles a good carbohydrate or protein.

Finding that happy medium means eating mushy foods; not quite solid but certainly not liquid. And if you don’t like mushy food, well…you can always do disturbing press-ups with Bear Grylls instead.

Recommended ‘Superfoods’

Bearing these in mind, we can turn to an article by Health magazine, which recommends twelve ‘superfoods’ to consume with a view to keeping warm. The list: oatmeal, hot chocolate, black bean soup, Brussels sprouts, pumpkin soup, chilli, avocado, walnuts, baked apples, sweet potatoes, squash and ginger tea. They’re all soft and mushy (except the walnuts; they’re on there because they apparently help your arteries stay open and healthy, aiding blood flow which is important for staying warm). Another advantage of these foods, however, is the fact that they’re actually healthy; and that seems to be the most important point of all.

If you can keep your body a well-oiled machine, you’ll stand a good chance of staving-off the cold even if your body fat is low. After you make the most out of your food, good circulation and exercise are the best things you can develop. That, and warm clothes

James Stannard

James has a Bachelor’s degree in History and wrote his dissertation on beef and protest. His heroes list ranges from Adele to Noam Chomsky: inspirations he’ll be invoking next year when he begins a Master’s degree in London.