Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is good for you all year round and is especially important in the winter months.
“Foods that contain antioxidants such as beta carotene and vitamin C can strengthen your immune system,” says EvergreenHealth nutrition expert Marcy Dorsey, RD. “This could help you fight off winter colds and the flu.”
Marcy suggests winter vegetables such as cabbage and Brussels sprouts, spinach and other greens, sweet potatoes and winter squashes for their immune-boosting nutrients.
She recommends making cruciferous vegetables – Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage – part of your meals four or five times per week.
Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, yams and parsnips are a good alternative to bread or rice and are a source of complex carbohydrates.
Brussels sprouts – Some people love Brussels sprouts, and some hate them. Yet there is no denying that they are one of the healthiest vegetables around.
For just 28 calories, a cup of raw sprouts contains:
Brussels sprouts can help lower cholesterol by binding with acids in your digestive tract, and steamed sprouts are deemed more effective than raw.
Be sure not to overcook Brussels sprouts because they will lose some of their nutritional value as well as develop an unpleasant sulfur smell.
Cauliflower – Cauliflower contains high levels of fiber, folate and potassium and the antioxidant vitamins C and K, which may contribute to lowering the risk of colon and liver cancers. Cauliflower helps improve your body’s circulation by increasing blood flow.
It is also high in B vitamins, making it an especially good food choice for vegetarians.
Cabbage – Cabbage is a good source of vitamin B, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and zinc. Its anti-inflammatory properties can help prevent or reduce swelling and aid in wound healing.
Cabbage also aids in digestion and its juice may help heal stomach ulcers. The sulforaphane in cabbage increases your levels of cancer-fighting enzymes more than any other plant chemical.
Greens – Kale, endive, arugula, and other greens grow well in cooler weather.
Kale is considered a “superfood” because it is rich in beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin K, and calcium, nutrients that strengthen your immune system, fight inflammation, and may help prevent cancer.
Arugula is high in vitamin A and lutein, which are important nutrients for eye health, including the prevention of macular degeneration.
Root vegetables – Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta carotene, which gives them their orange color. The beta carotene and vitamin C in sweet potatoes have been shown to be beneficial to joint, eye, and skin health.
Sweet potatoes, especially the skin, are high in fiber to help you feel full longer.
Parsnips lack the beta carotene of their orange look-alike carrots; they are, however, high in vitamins C and K, folate, and manganese. Marcy recommends them roasted or mashed as a lower-glycemic substitute for white potatoes.
Winter Squash – Winter squashes such as acorn, butternut and pumpkin are good sources of beta carotene, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamins B5 and B6, folate, manganese and even omega-3 fatty acids.
These nutrients help protect against cardiovascular disease and inflammation and promote healthy blood sugar levels..
The beta carotene in winter squash is important to eye health and, along with the other antioxidants in squash, lowers the risk of cancer. Marcy recommends trying squash a variety of ways – steamed, roasted or pureed in soups and stews.
While fresh produce is best, Marcy says that you can use frozen or canned vegetables as well to get them into your diet. She recommends rinsing canned vegetables before using to reduce the sodium and reading the ingredient list for frozen vegetables to avoid unnecessary added oils and preservatives.
Visit our Healthiest Best Foods homepage for more great ideas to get you and your family eating healthier.