Your Plate Can be Just as Colorful in the Winter as it is in the Summer
Thoughts of winter conjure up images of cozy sweaters, snowflakes and steaming mugs of hot chocolate. Winter, however, is not known for fresh produce. But with a bit of forethought and creativity, you can fill your plate with fruits and vegetables that peak in winter and are packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that provide a host of health benefits. Check out this list and hit the grocery store or farmer’s market today!
Pomegranates are called “the divine fruit” because they are so often mentioned in theological books, and they are packed with nutrients and bioactive plant compounds that make them one of the healthiest fruits on earth.
Why? Punicaligans, potent antioxidants found in pomegranates, have three times the antioxidant value of green tea and red wine. Flavonols block the inflammation that contributes to osteoarthritis.
Whether you drink the juice or eat the seeds – peeling a pomegranate is worth the effort, as the red anils provide a delicious burst of sweetness and fiber – pomegranate has anti-oxidant, anti-viral, anti-microbial, anti-tumor, and anti-inflammatory properties, and is a good source of vitamins A, C and E, and folic acid.
Pomegranates can lower cholesterol, lower high blood pressure, inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells, reduce the effects of erectile dysfunction and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Fuzzy little kiwi fruits are entirely edible, including the hairy peel and the tiny black seeds. They contain as much potassium as a banana but with half the calories. Potassium helps manage blood pressure by keeping electrolytes balanced. Kiwis also contain twice as much vitamin C as an orange, are full of the antioxidants choline, lutein, and zeaxanthin, and contain vitamins K and E, and folate. They can treat asthma, protect the eyes from macular degeneration, aid digestion, boost immune function, and lower blood pressure.
Lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, and clementines are all at their sweetest in the winter and pack a major punch of vitamin C and antioxidant flavonoids; citrus flavonoids have been shown to prevent the growth of cancer cells and the spread of tumors. They can also prevent heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels and increasing blood flow in the coronary arteries, which prevents plaque from forming.
Citrus fruits are high in potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and copper, and when eaten whole, fiber. They help regulate blood sugar, improve memory, lower blood pressure and boost the immune system; they can even shorten the duration of colds and cases of the flu.
Pink grapefruits contain lycopene, which also gives tomatoes and watermelons their color. It protects skin from sun damage, prevents macular degeneration, and helps prevent diabetes and heart disease.
And, while lemons and limes certainly aren’t as palatable as oranges, lemon juice squeezed into your water alkalizes the body, balances blood sugar and PH levels, and promotes healthy skin, gums, and teeth.
4. Broccoli, Broccoli Rabe & Broccolini
While most of us prefer the florets of these little trees, the stems are all fully edible; just peel and slice so they’ll cook more easily! Broccoli is a superfood, high in fiber, vitamins K and C, selenium, folate, beta-carotene, lutein, and other nutrients, including the sulfur-rich compound sulforaphane. It gives these greens their bitter taste and is antioxidant, antimicrobial, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and anti-diabetic.
Broccoli Rabe, despite its name, is unrelated to broccoli, but just as nutritious. It is high in vitamins A, C and K, as well as iron, manganese, and folate.
Broccolini is a hybrid, created by crossing broccoli and Chinese kale. It is also loaded with Vitamins A and C, iron and calcium.
This woefully underappreciated root vegetable looks like a white carrot and is best eaten in winter because the first frost converts its starch to sugar, giving it a sweet and nutty flavor. Eaten raw, they are sweet and crunchy and can be eaten with dips or chopped and put into salads. Cooked, they can be treated like potatoes and steamed, roasted, mashed or added to soups and stews.
Parsnips are high in vitamins C, and K, folate, iron, manganese, and potassium. They can reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce birth defects, promote weight loss, aid in digestion, enhance vision, and prevent anemia.
Fennel’s mild licorice flavor can spook those who are unfamiliar with it, but its slightly sweet crunch can be a great addition to salads and stews. Fennel seeds are often used medicinally to aid digestion, decrease blood pressure, and reduce water retention. Fennel is high in vitamin C, manganese, potassium and folate, and the antioxidants rutin, quercetin, and kaempferol. Fennel also contains the compound anethole, which is antibacterial, antimicrobial, anticancer, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective, and can balance hormones and reduce the symptoms of menopause.
Potatoes sometimes get a bad rap as just another empty carb, but they are actually a whole food that contains many beneficial nutrients, such as immune-boosting vitamins C and B6, folate, and fiber. Potatoes also contain carotenoids, flavonoids, and caffeic acid, all of which are antioxidant phytonutrients. Cooked potatoes are also a prebiotic food – that is, it induces the growth of good bacteria – that is beneficial to gut health. Purple potatoes, if you can find them, are extra nutritious. They get their color from antioxidant anthocyanins, which lower cancer and heart disease risk and reduce systemic inflammation.
8. Winter Squash
Butternut, acorn, delicata, and spaghetti squash, along with pumpkin, are all at their peak in winter. All are high in vitamins A, C, B6 and K, potassium, folate, and fiber. They are also a great source of carotenoids; in addition to alpha- and beta-carotene, which give squash its orange color.
More than 10 other carotenoids can be found in different varieties of winter squash. Carotenoids are essential for growth, immune system function and eye health, and can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Winter squashes also contain the polysaccharide pectin, an anti-inflammatory that can help to regulate and control blood sugar.
9. Winter Greens
Kale, Swiss chard, escarole, collard greens, and mustard greens all fall into this category. They are packed with vitamins A and K, folic acid, calcium, potassium, and fiber.
Collards and mustard greens are rich in glucosinolates, which are antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal, and have been shown to ward off certain cancers.
Kale provides lutein and zeaxanthin, which are good for eye health.
Chard contains anti-cancer kaempferol, which can lower LDL cholesterol, while escarole’s lactones have anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory properties.