Eating in season is a common practice said to enhance our health, but if you’re like the majority of consumers (and many of us here at One Green Planet), you have your favorites that you go back to each and every week. This is easy to do when we learn to love certain healthy fruits and vegetables. These foods become routine for us to pick up, and going to the store only to find they’re not available, well, it can be a little disappointing. For instance, when the pumpkins and cranberries disappear after December, or the fresh zucchini and cucumbers remain null and void after summer, we’re forced to either pay premium prices for those imported options, or we have to face the idea that we might have to switch up our favorite options for some others.
Lucky for us, that might not be such a bad thing; it may in fact keep us healthy.
Nature’s Remedy for Our Immune Systems: Seasonal Foods
Nature has provided us what we need, season by season, in order to take care of us. Did you know that some seasonal foods available in winter are actually higher in many immune-boosting properties than other foods produced other times of the year? While we could call this coincidence, we like to think that this is just how Mother Nature designed it to be. Of course all produce is healthy, but nature has us taken care of in winter, in ways you wouldn’t believe. For instance, during the cold and winter, bacteria spores thrive in the air more so than other times of the year. Being stuck indoors most of the time doesn’t help, and if you indulged in not-so-healthy options during the holidays, well, that only adds to the problem.
Choosing winter, seasonal fruits and vegetables is the easy answer here, because they contain high amounts of Vitamin A and Vitamin C needed for a healthy immune system. Many also contain extra doses of vitamins, minerals, and even protein too.
Here are 10 of the best seasonal winter fruits and veggies to get in your carts and into your kitchens. They’ll save your money and introduce you to new, healthy foods. We’ve even provided how-to tips and recipes if you need some ideas to give you jump-start.
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Rich in Vitamin C, antioxidants, low in sugar and high in fiber, these fruits refresh your body from the inside out. Have you ever considered how vibrant in color these foods are? They’re essentially created to keep your body feeling that way too! Lemons and limes are basically sugar-free and their peels contain incredible amounts of antioxidants that promote detoxification (be sure to buy organic). They also contain enzymes that aid in the digestion of heavier foods and can help prevent bacteria due to high amounts of Vitamin C. Navel oranges are in season during the winter, which are low in fructose, high in sugar, and can help promote regularity, while lowering blood sugar and improving immunity. Not just for snacking, you can use them to add flavor to foods like salads, soups, or even oatmeal and porridge. Or, add some to your next smoothie, such as this Green Superfood Detox Smoothie.
This green is kinda scary looking, we’re not gonna lie to you. But don’t pass it by at the store until you learn how to cook endive properly. Though you can eat it raw, it’s a bit stout in flavor. Cooking endive helps make it easier to digest and actually adds a sweeter, softer taste to this uber-healthy green. Bursting with anti-cancer properties, Vitamins A and C for immunity, fiber, and chlorophyll, endive is a green to give a try this winter.
3. Delicata Squash
A yellow, oblong squash that looks a little like a rounder, striped yellow football, is one of the best lower glycemic squashes to consider adding to your meal plans. It’s sweet in flavor but low in sugar and starch, and somewhat similar nutritionally speaking to spaghetti squash (also super healthy for you too). Delicata squash is great to fill you up and so easy to cook. You can slice it in rings, or just toss the whole thing in the oven at 400 degrees on a pan, roast for 45-50 minutes until fragrant and very lightly golden brown on top, slice open in half and serve or fill with yummy toppings. Squash is one of the best anti-cancer foods and also rich in Vitamin A and C, not to mention potassium and omega 3’s.
4. Butternut Squash
Don’t forget the butternut squash while you’re loading up on delicata! This beautiful orange veggie is as close to a miracle food as it gets. Low glycemic, high fiber, high water, rich in Vitamins A and C, sweet in flavor, easy to cook, and best of all – cheap!- butternut squash has so many benefits. You can roast it, cut it into fries, use it in tacos, chilis, use the puree in smoothies and muffins, and even add it to soups and stews.
5. Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are one of the best anti-cancer foods you can eat too, along with other cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Brussels sprouts are high in fiber and are fat-free and low-glycemic. If you’re not fond of their taste, try giving them a light roast in the oven first. Their flavors improve, fiber breaks down, and they make great sides that keep you full and keep your heart healthy.
Not just the king of greens, kale is also one of the best seasonal foods to pick up this time of year. It’s not only more vibrant in color, but also more available in organic form and cheaper bought in season. If you’ve yet to try kale for whatever reason, then make your first kale salad or saute yourself some kale and experience how good this green makes you feel. Kale reduces not just hunger, but also your blood sugar, risk for cancer and heart disease. Try all of our kale recipes if you need some new ideas!
Chestnuts are such a delight! You can buy them roasted on the street, but for the healthiest option, go for the organic packs of chestnuts at your local grocer if you can’t find them fresh out of the shell. These are tree-ripened and not processed with chemicals or roasted with unhealthy heart-damaging oils. Chestnuts make great snacking options and contain 30 percent of your daily Vitamin C needs in just 1/4 cup serving! They’re also fat-free unlike other nuts, very soft in texture (sort of like chickpeas) and have a really high dose of fiber to keep you full. Add chestnuts to salads, soups, roast them, or just snack on them alone.
What looks like a giant onion stalk, well, actually is. Leeks are a part of the same family of plants that onions are, known as the allium family. This family of plants is known for its detoxification properties, high Vitamin C content, rich fiber content, and liver-boosting properties. They’re also low in calories and said to help reduce the risk of cancer and harmful bacteria in the body. Leeks can be chopped and sauteed, or used in soups to add flavor. Like onions, but more mild in flavor, leeks have a “softer” taste if you will, that is addition to a variety of soups and stews. This soup with carrots is a great option to give a whirl if you need a recipe to try. Look for them in your produce department and use the whole plant, not just the bulb, and see these tips to learn how to cook them.
9. Kiwi Fruit
Kiwis are easy to find this time of year and are one of the best sources of Vitamin C. They’re actually a berry botanically speaking, and have similar nutritional benefits that berries do. They’re rich in Vitamin C, fiber, and very low in fructose. You can chop them and use them on oatmeal, eat them as a snack, add them to dessert, or cube them and use them in smoothies. Did you know you can also eat the peels of kiwi? It contains a large part of the Vitamin C content, half of the fiber of the fruit, and you won’t even taste it (despite its fuzzy appearance). The key here is to buy organic to reduce your risk of pesticides found in conventional peels.
10. Collard Greens
Collard greens are one of the best sources of dietary calcium in a plant-based diet, and surely better for your body than a glass of milk will ever be. Collards seem so large and a little intimidating to cook at first appearance, but they’re really easy to handle once they break down. Collards are rich in Vitamins A and C, fiber, anti-cancer phytochemicals, and chlorophyll that helps alkalize the blood. Just break off the leaves, separating them from the stem, roll them up, and chop them into sliced strips to use in soups and stews. You can also use the whole leaves to make your own collard wraps in replacement to grain wraps as well. See more tips for cooking with collards here.
Other seasonal foods to eat this time of year include: sweet potatoes, carrots, dates, plums, pomegranates and persimmons, just to name a few. Eating a variety of plant-based foods will keep your immune system humming and prevent disease, all with every single bite. See a list of seasonal foods to eat all year here, and let us know … what’s your favorite winter food?
Lead Image Source: Sarah Leval/Flickr