Williamstown — From a symbolic perspective, January is the perfect time to launch a new health journey. It’s a return to the beginning, a clean page on a new calendar. Practically speaking, however, the dark, cold days of midwinter can be a tough time to carve out healthy habits. Energy and moods suffer without sun and fresh air. Frigid temperatures trigger our primitive instinct to load up on rich, calorie-laden food. Even without the cravings, local produce gets harder to find; In New England, January may be a time for fresh starts — but not fresh vegetables.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of options for healthy eating in the Berkshires, regardless of the weather. “This is the darkest part of the year for the kind of fresh, local products we specialize in, especially in the growing season,” Scott Menhinick, Marketing & Owner Relations Manager at Wild Oats Market in Williamstown, explained, “so what springs to mind for this time of year is nuts.”

Convenient and nutrient-rich, nuts are an easy alternative to sugary snack foods. “We have a variety of options in our bulk aisle, many of which have the kind of magnesium, zinc and other minerals we need to get through the cold, dark winters here in the Berkshires and keep our immune systems strong,” Menhinick said.

A 2019 study published by The American Heart Association showed that patients with type 2 diabetes who began eating nuts regularly after their diagnosis enjoyed a 17% drop in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and a 34% decrease in the risk of cardiovascular disease death. Walnuts, especially, are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Nuts are also high in protein, to help support your 2022 exercise goals, and their fiber content can help you feel fuller, longer, decreasing the urge to snack.

“We offer both naked/unprocessed versions of walnuts, cashews, almonds, etc. as well as lots of options with flavors and seasonings that can make them a lot more fun to eat or perfect for a gathering of people with different tastes,” Menhinick said. He recommends them as a healthy alternative to party staples like guacamole at your Big Game watch party as well as a regular snack option. “They’re an easy snack for work or home throughout the day,” he said.

Comfort and convenience

The loss of energy and motivation that comes with shorter daylight hours is certainly no help when it comes to developing healthy habits. Thanks to our biological programming, human bodies rely heavily on the sun to regulate important processes like brain function. When the sun is down, the body produces higher levels of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone that can make us feel tired and even depressed. At the same time, lack of sun affects the body’s ability to produce Vitamin D, which in turn affects the production of serotonin, another important hormone that helps regulate mood.

Under these circumstances, preparing healthy meals can seem like a near-impossible task. That’s why Menhinick recommends trying the prepared food options at Wild Oats. “People love things like pre-chopped vegetables all year round, but right now especially we have all kinds of pre-cooked entrees, sides, soups, etc. that people can just take home and warm up or even grab on the way to work for lunch,” he said. “Since we can’t have open food like the hot bar that was so popular here before COVID, this is how we help people in our community find something that’s quick and easy, but also healthy.”

The co-op offers a wide range of meal options, to fit finicky tastes and keep things interesting for the more adventurous, including roasted veggies, soups, meat-based options like meatballs and roasted chicken, international dishes like Chana Masala, wraps and sandwiches and much more.

“It’s a flexible, a la carte option that allows people to build their own healthy meals, often with organic ingredients, without having to do a lot of work or heat up the oven,” he said. “During these challenging times for all of us when we just want to go home and sleep it all off, this can be a lifesaver.”