When I think about healthy eating, I tend to think about summer time. Why? During the summer, it is relatively easy to eat “in season.” There is an abundance of fresh fruit and familiar vegetables that we are relatively comfortable preparing. Depending on where you live, your options might not differ much from season to season. This is in part due to warmer climates, greenhouses and advances in food transport. Just because its winter doesn’t mean that intake of nutrient-dense produce goes out the window. There are plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables that thrive during winter months.
Why is it beneficial to eat “in season?”
First of all, seasonal food is fresher and tends to be tastier and more nutritious. According to the Cleveland Wellness Clinic, “in-season fruits and veggies are harvested just as they’ve developed abundant nutrients. In contrast, fruits and veggies transported from far away are picked before they’re ripe and nutritionally mature. This allows the produce to survive days or weeks in a truck, but it doesn’t do your body any favors.” To put things in perspective, eating spinach in season provides up to three times more vitamin C than eating it out of season (WOW!).
Eat the Seasons website points out some other key reasons why you should prioritize seasonal foods:
- to reduce the energy (and associated CO2 emissions) needed to grow and transport the food we eat
- to avoid paying a premium for food that is scarcer or has travelled a long way
- to support the local economy
- to reconnect with nature’s cycles and the passing of time
There are a number of other good reasons to eat more local, seasonal food:
During winter months, colds and the flu are in full force. Now is a prime time to boost your immune system! Though there isn’t a “magic pill” that can completely wipe out a cold, a healthy immune system helps your body fight off germs that cause colds and the flu and can even minimize the duration of a cold. I’m sure you’ve heard that Vitamin C is beneficial for immune health. You might even be in the habit of taking Vitamin C when you’re sick. As stated in Today’s Dietitian article, Winter Nutrition — Healthy Eating Offers Good Protection, studies have shown that 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C daily may make colds milder and even shorten them by half a day. Thankfully, nature’s naturally-occurring winter foods are high in Vitamin C. Seasonal winter foods such as cabbage, broccoli, pumpkin, sweet potato, and spinach all provide Vitamin C to support immune function.
Here are some other seasonal foods that are in abundance during the winter season:
broccoli, broccolini, brussels sprouts, winter squash (butternut, kabocha, pumpkin, acorn, spaghetti), cauliflower, celery root, chard, collards, fennel, leeks, parsnip, potatoes, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, kohlrabi, sun choke, turnips, chestnuts, cranberries, kiwi fruit, oranges, persimmon, pomegranate, tangerines
Eating according to the seasons is an excellent way to avoid “food ruts.”
With each season comes new foods to highlight! That helps you get the full balance of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that nature offers. This diverse array of phytonutrients they provide gives your body what it needs to functional optimally.
In the winter, we tend to want foods that are hearty and comforting. Have you ever wondered why winter is characterized with baked goods, potato-rich soups and hearty breads? According to the Cleveland Wellness Clinic, researchers have found that in the cold months, our brains produce less serotonin, a “feel-good” chemical. This drop in serotonin levels can contribute to seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D). The Mayo Clinic explains that S.A.D. is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. Carbohydrates do lead to increased serotonin levels. To avoid unwanted gain by resorting to unhealthy carbs in the form of Holiday cookies and other high-sugar snacks, use winter vegetables, which provide healthy, complex carbohydrates and typically more fiber than bread or other refined grains. They also are packed with beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant. Consider adding rutabaga to beef stew, swap your traditional potatoes with a celery root mash or have some roasted kabocha squash with dinner instead of a traditional roll!
Just because its winter doesn’t mean that your salads have to take a hiatus. The winter is an excellent time to bulk up salads and turn them into full meals. Instead of a regular salad mix, add seasonal greens, such as endive, radicchio, and chard. If you want something warm, top with roasted sweet potatoes or squash, and other roasted vegetables. Sliced pears or persimmons add a nice sweetness as well as additional vitamin C.
- Fill up on cruciferous veggies. Yes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are available year round, but they peak in the fall/winter months and are high in nutrients.
- During the Holiday season/ winter months, we have a tendency to over-indulge. Our livers might need a little boost to speed up our natural detoxification process.
- As published in Clinical Nutrition Insights, several compounds present in cruciferous vegetables have been shown to induce Phase II detoxification enzymes including glutathione S-transferase and quinone reductase.
- A toxin overload can deplete glutathione which decreases its ability to combat oxidative stress/free radicals, so help your body replenish by adding these veggies to your diet on a regular basis.
- In addition to being nutrition powerhouses, cruciferous veggies have rich, robust flavors.
- Rather than steaming, as your mom probably did when you were a child, toss them with olive oil, sea salt and pepper and roast them.
- I love roasting a large pan of Brussels sprouts and cauliflower and using them as a snack during the week when I want a salty, satisfying snack.
Lastly, winter is characterized by a drop in Vitamin D levels, the “sunshine vitamin.”
Vitamin D is essential for immune function and overall health. Lower vitamin D in conjunction with Holiday weight gain as been associated with increased blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Vitamin D doesn’t often occur naturally in many foods, but it does in eggs and oily fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel so bring life to your diet with these fatty fish. Other foods with Vitamin D include beef liver, cheese, certain mushrooms, and egg yolks. These fatty fish also provide Omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to decease inflammation and help boost mood. Make a conscious effort to switch up your intake of these immune-boosting foods and pair them with other winter nutrient stars. If you learn to embrace the variety that each season brings, you can boost your health and you’ll always have something to look forward to!