While the wind and the slush of wintertime can make us long for springtime, there is something particularly delicious that happens between November and March: the produce.
Sprouts are the food of springtime and fruit the food of summer, but wintertime means root veggies, unique leafy greens and tart berries are in season, making for some of the best comfort food (read: taste amazing but are truly so good for you) meals of the year.
Eating in line with the seasons offers many benefits. Energetically, the planet slows a bit in the winter – plants halt their growing, there is less sunlight – and we, too, tend to slow down a little, spending more time indoors and in pseudo-hibernation. Heavier, warmer, spicier foods are a better fit in winter as they help to encourage this natural cycle of restfulness. Not so coincidentally, the food nature offers during this time of year gives us what we need, energetically and nutritionally.
For instance, in the absence of an abundance of light leafy greens, wintertime greens are uber-packed with nutrients, giving you more nutritional benefits per bite. Think of it as nature offering a little extra for the nutrient bank to tide you over until spring. Root veggies, too, are often the nutrient storehouses of their larger plant structure: carrots, sweet potatoes and parsnips carry a plethora of minerals from the soil which we can also benefit from greatly.
So in the spirit of avoiding a snow storm and cooking at home instead of going out, here are some of the healthiest winter veggies (and our favorite ways to use them).
1. Bok choy
Bok choy, often used in Asian cooking, is a relative of cabbage. It’s packed with iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium, which offer tons of benefits when it comes to building and maintaining bones. Like many other dark green veggies, bok choy is high in Vitamin K which helps maintain blood and cardiovascular health, as well as assist the body in using other nutrients. Bok choy has also been associated with circulatory health, blood pressure, immunity, and vision. One single 100-gram serving contains just 13 calories along with Vitamins A, B6, and C. Try it in stir-fries or brushed with oil and grilled. The stems and the leaves offer unique benefits, so eat the whole thing whenever possible.
2. Collard greens
Looking to boost your immune cell function and feel energized all winter long? Collards provide a powerful punch of Vitamin C, Vitamin K and fiber, along with Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, folate, riboflavin, thiamine, and niacin. One cup also contains four grams of protein (!!); plus, eating this nutrient powerhouse may also help reduce your cancer risk as it contains compounds that help prevent cancer cell growth. Collards are high in fiber, making them a great choice for digestive wellness, and they also help the liver to remove toxic byproducts. The Vitamin K and calcium are good for your bones, while the high Vitamin A content is great for your eyes and soft tissue health. All around, this is one green you can’t afford to skimp on. Try it braised with a bit of white wine, in a hearty winter soup or a smoothie if you’re in need of a little summer-inspired winter-veg pick-me-up.
Perhaps one of the more under-appreciated winter veggies, parsnips bring a lot to the table despite their less-than-colorful appearance. High in fiber, parsnips offer our bodies things like improved digestion, improved blood sugar regulation and better blood pressure levels. They contain potassium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc and iron (whew!), which they’ve acquired and stored from the soil in which they’re grown. Parsnips also contain a variety of vitamins, including B, C, E, and K. Consider them friends to your bones, blood, and mental health. Roast them to your heart’s delight with apples, balsamic, and a little olive oil. They’re also a delicious, nutrient-dense addition to stews and curries if you’re feeling crafty with the crockpot.
These hearty veggie friends are holdovers from the autumn harvest; because they keep well in cool conditions, they tend to be great options for warming, filling winter meals months after they’re picked. Their bright orange color tells us they’re packed with Vitamin A, along with iron, potassium and a ton of fiber. Each variety offers a slightly different nutrient profile, so mix up your butternut with some acorn and kabocha to widen the swath of nutrients you take in. Plus, eating the skins offers even more nutritional goodness. Roast with some coconut oil and cinnamon, or puree with warming spices into a delicious winter soup.
5. Red Cabbage
Hearty red cabbage is a great piece of wintertime produce. It’s teeming with phytochemicals that give it its bright purple hue: these compounds are powerful antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation, eliminate free radicals and reduce your risk for early cell deterioration. Cabbage’s nutritional bouquet includes folate, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, Vitamins A, C, E, K and a host of B Vitamins. Thanks to this impressive array, cabbage contributes to eye health, immune-system strength, improved detoxification, heart health, and reduced stomach ulcers. The cooking options are limitless as you can braise, steam or grill chunks of this beautiful crucifer all winter long to stay in fighting shape for spring.
Like squash, carrots offer a host of vitamins and minerals that are great for eye, blood, bone, and soft tissue health. Eat the whole thing as the attached roughage packs a good dose of Vitamins A, C, and K, iron, calcium, fiber, and antioxidants. They’re great for your kidneys too by helping your body regulate detoxification and remove harmful compounds. Eat your carrots cooked to help the body more easily absorb their nutrients, especially in winter when the digestive tract can use an extra bit of warmup from hot food rather than extra chill from cold, raw options. A hearty stew packed with carrots and other toothsome veggies can be a nourishing wintertime option, as can honey-braised carrots alongside any of the other veggies in this list.
7. Sweet Potatoes
Another excuse to include the most delicious of tubers into your diet. Sweet potatoes are great additions to diets ranging from paleo to vegan to low-FODMAP and can be a sensible addition for anyone with blood sugar concerns, diabetes, or trouble digesting starches. They contain a wealth of B Vitamins, along with Vitamin C, beta-carotene, potassium, and calcium all of which are great for building bone, blood and immune cells. Plus, they help the body produce and utilize energy effectively. Sweet potatoes’ high fiber content is also a great digestive aid in helping relieve constipation and reduce ulcer formation. Since these goodies contain anti-inflammatory compounds that work to reduce swelling in tissues from internal organs to muscles. We love a good baked sweet potato fry or simply baking a sweet potato whole and topping with tahini, pumpkin seeds and a little salt and pepper.
If cranberries aren’t a staple in your wintertime diet, now’s the time to consider adding them in more often. Not just relegated to a Thanksgiving table, these resilient little fruits are in season in winter due to their tough skins and ability to withstand cold. They’re picked later in the season than most berries and can last well into the winter months. Cranberries make a great addition during the winter thanks to their off-the-charts Vitamin C content, which can help bolster the body against colds and flu. They also contain calcium, magnesium, iron, sodium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc, along with B Vitamins, Vitamin E and Vitamin K. And with all of that, cranberries contribute to healthy bones, teeth and gums. Their high flavonoid content – a natural antioxidant, anti-inflammatory compound – makes them great for reducing ulcers and inflammation throughout the body. Plus, they offer edible salicylic acid which may prevent blood clots and eliminate cancer cells. Add cooked cranberries for great additions to grain bowls, cereal, and meat- or nut-loaves.
(If you’re curious to know what’s in season near you, check out this Seasonal Food Guide.)