Favorite Healthy Winter Foods
As the temperature falls, it’s easy to skip your weekly trip to the farmer’s market—brrr!
But don’t be discouraged from seasonal eating once the cold weather sets in. The winter months are actually the best time of year to savor some of the healthiest and most delicious types of produce, including hearty greens, colorful squash, and fresh citrus fruits.
And while the stock at your favorite market may never be as varied and abundant as it is in warmer seasons, what you do find there this time of year will be at its nutritional peak—and affordable to boot. You’ll also get a lesson in what’s not in season, so you can choose wisely wherever you do your shopping.
Read on for some of our top winter produce picks, with simple, mouthwatering recipes to inspire you from the Canyon Ranch kitchen.
These miniature cabbages (they’re actually cousins of the larger ones we eat on St. Patrick’s Day and in coleslaw) taste best when grown in cool or even frosty weather—the temps cause the leaves to convert starches to sugar, giving them a natural sweetness. As a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, Brussels sprouts may provide protection from cancer.
For optimal nutrition (and flavor), take care not to overcook them. Steam, braise or boil them for no more than 10 minutes so they maintain their bright green color, and if you’re preparing them whole, cut an X at the base of each one to ensure even cooking.
Don’t be fooled by this veggie’s white color—it’s loaded with cancer-fighting antioxidants and sulfur compounds that help the body detoxify. Look for cauliflower with a compact head, no brown spots and bright green leaves. Store it in a plastic bag in your refrigerator for up to five days.
To mix things up, and impress any kids or hard-to-wow adults you may be cooking for, you can also try orange or purple cauliflower. They have the same health benefits as their colorless counterparts and are becoming more common at farmer’s markets and in grocery stores.
Affectionately known as “the stinking rose,” garlic is the pungent bulb of a plant in the lily family. Allicin, the compound that gives crushed garlic its odor, has been found to have antimicrobial and heart-protective properties, and there’s some evidence that garlic could protect against several types of cancer.
Try spreading roasted pieces on bread in place of butter — garlic adds tons of flavor to food for just five calories per clove, the amount the World Health Organization recommends we eat every day. Choose garlic that is plump, dry, firm and white to off-white in color. Store your bulbs in a cool, dark unrefrigerated spot for up to a couple of weeks.
Oranges are packed with immune-boosting vitamin C — one medium-sized fruit provides more than a day’s recommended daily allowance — and they’re also a good source of folate and potassium. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that oranges and other citrus fruits may protect against cardiovascular disease.
Clementines, a small, seedless variety, are only available from late November through early January, making them a holiday favorite (and kids love them because they’re easy to peel!). You can juice oranges, add them to fruit or green salads, chop them up into a citrus salsa–or just peel and eat. Look for firm, smooth, bright-colored oranges, and store them for up to two weeks in the fridge.
Winter squash such as acorn, butternut and kabocha (not to be confused with summer squash like zucchini and yellow crookneck) are actually grown in the summer and fall but are sturdy enough for storage into the colder months. The hearty vegetables are top sources of beta-carotene, a cancer-fighting antioxidant that the body converts to vision-protecting vitamin A.
Choose squash that is heavy for its size and store it in a cool, dark place for up to a month (once you’ve cut into it, you’ll want to refrigerate the rest). You can also cook and purée a batch to keep in the freezer; it makes for an easy ingredient to use in soups and more.
While many people are most familiar with sweet potatoes as a marshmallow-topped side dish on Thanksgiving, these tasty tubers are best when their own natural sweetness is given room to shine. With the skin on, one medium sweet potato — a different species than its less-nutritious cousin, the yam — provides you with more than four times the daily need for beta-carotene.
They’re also packed with filling fiber and the mineral manganese, an antioxidant that plays a role in metabolism, and they contain fewer calories and total carbs than white potatoes.
Look for a crack and blemish-free potato with smooth skin, and store it in a cool, dark place for up to five weeks.
Cold-hardy leafy greens like chard, collards and kale are all loaded with vitamin K, a nutrient that helps your body heal wounds and improves bone strength. They’re also great sources of the skin-smoothing vitamin C and the heart-healthy mineral folate, as well as a range of carotenoids — antioxidants that block the early stages of cancer.
Look for dark-in-color greens with no yellow spots; store them in the crisper and use them within a few days. Try sautéing them in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes or stirring them into soups and stews.