“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” – Edith Sitwell
It’s important to eat a well-balanced diet all year, but as we head into the coldest months of the year, eating well is even more critical to support our immune systems and get plenty of vitamins, like vitamin D, which we tend to get less of without the sun and abundant summertime produce. Today, we’re breaking down some in-season superfoods to inspire your fall and winter meal planning and ensure you get all the nutrients your body needs during these cozier seasons.
Winter eating habits
You may have noticed that you tend to eat more food in the fall and winter than in the spring and summer. This is normal. A 2005 study found that on average, people consume 86 more calories per day in fall compared with spring. This is believed to be because we are evolutionarily programmed to prepare for the harsh winter ahead, and changes in season can influence the balance of hormones which dictate hunger and appetite.
In addition to evolutionarily influences, reduced sunlight in the fall and winter leads to less frequent serotonin release. This neurotransmitter boosts our mood, and with less sunlight, we are more likely to seek out this release from other sources, like carbohydrates. Lastly, the cold and darkness of winter months drives us to rely more on comfort foods, increasing our caloric intake.
Higher food consumption in the fall and winter is to be expected, but ensuring that the food you are eating is nutritious will help you feel full for longer and stay healthier.
What is a superfood?
There is no standard legal definition for what constitutes a ‘superfood,’ but generally, the term refers to foods which offer maximum nutritional benefits and minimal calories. They are usually unprocessed fruits and vegetables packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Some of the most common include berries, leafy greens, and nuts.
Just as we anxiously awaited the arrival of strawberries and watermelon back in May, here are six delicious fall favorites to add to your grocery list.
- Eggplant. These purple power foods are rich in nasunin, which protects your brain cells from oxidation and cholesterol-lowering chlorogenic acid. Try roasting them with a drizzle of olive oil for a hearty snack or side!
- Butternut squash. Move over zucchini, there’s a new squash in season. This beautiful gourd is loaded with beta-carotene, vitamin C, and fiber. Try this versatile veggie roasted, in a soup, or even in a salad.
Pomegranate. Studies have shown consuming pomegranates helps fight the buildup of fat in your arteries, so try this delicious fruit with yogurt, as a garnish, or all on its own.
- Cranberries. This classic Thanksgiving ingredient is full of antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. It can improve bladder health and has been shown to defend against breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancer. Skip some of the sugar and try making your own cranberry sauce at home!
- Broccoli rabe. Despite its name, this veggie is actually not related to broccoli, but it is loaded with about twice the amount of zinc. It’s an immune system booster and full of fiber so try it sauteed or roasted for an exciting broccoli substitute.
- Leeks. Along with other onions and garlic, leeks contain polyphenols, which protect blood vessels from oxidative damage and prevent atherosclerosis. These versatile veggies are also high in vitamin K and can be used in soups, scrambles, or on their own as a braised side.
As we move into winter, you will likely see more winter squash, citrus, and root vegetables hitting your local market. Here are a few of our favorites.
- Acorn squash – Dice and roast or make into a rich soup for a delicious comforting winter meal. Winter squash is high in antioxidants, fiber, magnesium, beta carotene, and vitamins C and B6. Plus, squash has a very long shelf life so you can buy one to have on hand and not worry about it going bad.
- Ginger – This classic immune-booster is also used to soothe an upset stomach and improve digestion.
- Kale – This potassium-rich plant is king of the winter greens. It’s a great source of folate and extremely versatile. Enjoy it in salads, soups, smoothies, or baked into kale chips.
- Citrus – citrus is very high in vitamin C as well as minerals and phytochemicals. Juices are great, but enjoying oranges or grapefruit whole will give you a fiber boost, too.
- Brussels sprouts – These longer-lasting cruciferous veggies are high in vitamin K and contain manganese and potassium, too. Buy these whole and on the stalk to optimize their shelf life.
- Fennel – Known for its licorice-y smell, fennel contains fiber, potassium, manganese, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper. Additionally, it has been shown to improve digestion and relieve heartburn and IBS. This one is a little tougher to cook with, but makes a good addition to soups, stuffings, or broths.
- Parsnips – This folate and fiber filled root veggie is more flavorful than a carrot and can be swapped into any
recipe which calls for carrots.
- Persimmons – These fruits are gaining popularity in the world of baking, but many people have never heard of them. They are very nutrient dense and just one contains half of your vitamin A needs.
- Beets – These dark red root vegetables aren’t the most versatile, but they can be enjoyed in soups, salads, or pickled. They are high in folate, potassium, and beta carotene.
- Cabbage – This veggie gets a bad rap, but it’s actually quite high in vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, and calcium. It can be used in egg rolls, soup, or sauces.
- Endive – Another lesser-known super food, endive contains lots of fiber as well as potassium, vitamin A, and beta carotene. It’s also known as radicchio, escarole, or frisée, and can be roasted or served raw with your favorite dipping sauce.
Colder temperatures and less sunlight is the perfect recipe for the wintertime blues. Fortunately, a few foods have been shown to actually have mood-boosting properties. Incorporating these into your diet will not only get you the nutrients you need, but also help you feel a little more upbeat.
Starting off the list is the Indian spice turmeric, an antioxidant-rich root that boosts dopamine and serotonin levels. In a 2015 study, researchers found that curcumin, the primary antioxidant component in turmeric, not only boosted cognitive function but also improved mood in study participants.
Wild Alaskan salmon
Besides the delicious taste of fresh salmon, this superfood plays host to a whole lot of inflammation-reducing omega-3 fatty acids and muscle-building protein. Fish is often referred to as “brain food”, because it supplies essential fats that allow brain membranes to perform at peak levels, which is key for the regulation of mood.
Yogurt and other fermented foods
The keyword here is probiotics. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics that are known to boost the connection between your brain and your gut. This is vital because that connection plays an influential role in your brain’s sensory processing and emotion. In short, probiotics cue your brain to have more emotional responses.
While coconut oil has been criticized by the medical community for its ability to raise cholesterol, that may be a good thing when it comes to depression. A meta-analysis in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine demonstrated that low total cholesterol is associated with higher rates of depression.
For those who constantly feel stressed, sesame seeds are fantastic. That’s because of their high levels of magnesium, a mineral that helps control your stress response.
Even if you forgot about them, you’ve most likely heard of the superfoods we’ve mentioned so far, but if you’re looking to get outside your comfort zone and try something new, we’ve got one you probably haven’t tried before.
If you’ve never heard of moringa, you’re not alone. This under the radar superfood is not commonly sold at grocery stores, but it has many health benefits that will make you want to add it to your daily diet. Today we share a few of those from our friends over at the Food Revolution Network.
First off, what is it? Moringa is a shrub that originated in India and is related to collards, kale, and broccoli. The leaves and seeds are the most commonly eaten part of the plant. The foliage has a mild, peppery taste similar to arugula. It has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years and is very high in vitamin C. It also has 15 times as much potassium as bananas and 10 times as much beta carotene as carrots. It’s also rich in iron, calcium, and fiber. You can see why it’s called a superfood!
In addition to all those nutrients, one 2015 review found that moringa has anticancer effects on lab-cultivated cells, and in another study, it reduced tumor growth in rats by 43 percent. It also has been shown to reduce chronic inflammation and it has strong antimicrobial properties. Juice from its bark has even been shown to have an antibacterial effect against staph. In a study using moringa for urinary tract infections, 66 percent of patients were cured completely with moringa therapy.
Eating locally in the winter
Eating locally can be more of a challenge in the winter months, especially if you live in an area with harsh winter weather, but there are still ways to do so, and eating seasonally is your best starting place. Opting for in-season produce like winter squash, cruciferous veggies, and resilient fruits like apples, citrus, and pomegranates will increase the likelihood of finding locally-grown options.
If you’re looking to grow fall and winter foods yourself, check out this guide on prepping your garden for winter, and consider investing in a greenhouse or cold frame tunnels to extend your growing season. Not ready to grow your own? Check out the National Farmers Market Directory for winter farmers markets near you!