Embracing the flavors and produce of each season is not only more delicious (out-of-season fruits and vegetables tend to be mealy shadows of their in-season selves), it also helps me to get a more varied diet throughout the year. Although there are fewer foods that are in-season in winter than summer, there are some surprising health superstars. Here are 5 of the healthiest winter foods you should be eating.
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1. Pomegranates—Chances are you’ve tasted pomegranates in their newly popular juice form. And from a heart-health perspective, that’s probably a good thing. Pomegranate juice is rich in antioxidants (more so than other fruit juices)—just a cup daily might help to keep free radicals from oxidizing “bad” LDL cholesterol, according to a preliminary study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Oxidized LDL contributes to plaque buildup in the arteries. Another study showed that drinking pomegranate juice might improve blood flow to the heart in people with myocardial ischemia, a serious condition in which the heart’s oxygen supply is compromised because the arteries leading to it are blocked.
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2. Swiss Chard—Dark leafy greens, such as Swiss chard, but also kale and collards, thrive in the chill of winter when the rest of the produce section looks bleak. In fact, a frost can take away the bitterness of kale. These greens are particularly rich in vitamins A, C and K. Collards, mustard greens and escarole are also excellent sources of folate, important for women of childbearing age.
3. Oranges—Citrus fruit, including oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit, are at their juiciest in the wintertime and can add sunshine to the dreary winter. Citrus fruits are loaded with vitamin C—one medium orange delivers more than 100 percent of your daily dose. As Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D., writes in the January/February 2012 issue of EatingWell Magazine, citrus fruits are also rich sources of flavonoids. The predominant flavonoid in these fruits—hesperidin—is credited with boosting “good” HDL cholesterol and lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
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4. Potatoes—Potatoes sometimes get a bad rap for being a white starch, thrown into the same category as white rice or white bread. But unlike those other starches, which have indeed been stripped of healthful nutrients, potatoes are a whole food that contain several beneficial nutrients. They are an excellent source of two immunity boosters—vitamins C and B6, delivering 25% and 29% of your daily needs per medium potato, respectively. They are also a good source of folate, which is especially important for women of childbearing age, and they deliver fiber (4 grams in a medium potato; women need 25 grams daily and men need 38 grams daily). If you can find purple potatoes, you’ll get an added health boon—they are rich in anthocyanins—antioxidants that are linked to a host of health benefits, from lowering cancer and heart disease risk to quelling inflammation.
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5. Butternut Squash—There are many varieties of winter squash—including butternut, acorn, delicata and spaghetti squash—and they are all excellent choices in the winter. One cup of cooked winter squash has few calories (around 80) but is high in both vitamin A (214 percent of the recommended daily value) and vitamin C (33 percent of the daily value), as well as being a good source of vitamins B6 and K, potassium and folate.
What are your favorite winter foods? Tell us what you think below.