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Big soup pots simmering on your stove, cozy nights by the fire, and mugs of warming tea—wintertime is cherished by many as a time to nourish, restore, and snuggle up for the cold days and long nights. While there are many health benefits that derive from a seasonal eating approach, the winter months can present a small conundrum because it is the season with the least availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. However, once you start exploring, you may be surprised by how many seasonal options are available.
In many towns, there are winter farmers’ markets (often indoors) and community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs filled with late-harvest produce, including earthy root vegetables, bright and tart citrus, and even some hearty leafy greens. Many health food stores in your neighborhood also likely feature some late-harvest produce.
Here are six healthy harvest foods to enjoy this winter. While you may have tried some of these foods in your meals, others may be new and exciting for you to explore. Either way, have fun experimenting with and savoring the diverse flavors of winter harvest foods.
Hard-shell squash, also called winter squash, is known for its smooth, creamy, and nutty flavor. From pumpkin to sweet butternut squash, there are many winter squash varieties to explore. Acorn winter squash, for example, is low in sugars and high in fiber. It is also high in vitamins C and A, calcium, and iron. Eat it regularly to take advantage of those nutrients’ ability to boost immunity, build strong bones, and maintain your iron levels (preventing low levels of iron in your blood, a condition known as anemia).
How to enjoy: Most squash varieties are easy to prepare by first halving and then roasting face down on an oiled baking sheet at 425 degrees (F) for 30 to 40 minutes until nice and tender. Scoop out the seeds to discard, then scoop out the flesh and top with sea salt and butter or coconut oil. Try blending into a creamy smooth soup with onion, salt, and vegetable broth (no milk necessary), or cut raw into small cubes and sauté until tender and golden brown.
During winter, you may notice a plethora of grapefruit on the shelves of your local grocery store. Grapefruit is a tropical fruit, but it is also grown in warmer climates around North America, such as Florida, maturing in the late fall through the spring. Grapefruit is known for its high levels of vitamin C and quercetin (a bioflavonoid that is also a natural antihistamine). Grapefruit also contains dietary fiber and has been shown to decrease insulin levels and support healthy weight loss.
How to enjoy: Grapefruit can be enjoyed à la carte as a tasty and naturally sweet snack. If you love the taste of grapefruit, try juicing it in your home juicer or adding peeled slices to a winter-themed salad.
Closely related to other root vegetables such as carrot, parsnips are another wintertime root to explore. With a sweet nutty flavor, parsnips also come with some wonderful nutrients and health benefits. Parsnips are a great source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. One cup of parsnips contains 26 percent of the daily value (for adults and children aged four and older who follow a 2,000 calorie/day diet) for dietary fiber, which supports healthy digestion.
How to enjoy: Parsnips can be enjoyed raw or cooked, similar to their cousin, the carrot. Try roasting them in the oven with olive oil and salt, shredding them raw into your favorite salad, or blending them into a delicious and naturally creamy soup recipe.
Cranberries are a great wintertime fruit to enjoy for their many health benefits, as well as their easy storage and shelf life. Cranberries have been used historically by Native Americans to treat urinary tract infections (UTI). They contain high levels of phytonutrients, including proanthocyanins, anthocyanidins, phenolic acids, terpenes, and flavanols, which are responsible for their antibacterial, antiviral, and antioxidant properties. Cranberries can also help to decrease inflammation.
How to enjoy: There are many healthy recipes for naturally sweetened fresh cranberry sauce to enjoy at Thanksgiving, but there are other ways to include more cranberry in your diet all year long. Enjoy cranberry juice (without added sugar) as a great addition to your beverage repertoire and to keep any UTIs at bay. Try adding cranberries to your favorite baked goods recipe in place of other berries, or top off your morning oats or yogurt with some warmed cranberries for a sweet and tart flavor.
In Greek mythology, the pomegranate symbolizes life, regeneration, and marriage. The fruit is also considered sacred in many other spiritual traditions and happens to be a nutritious food as well. From a health perspective, pomegranate is important because of its antioxidant-rich nutrient profile. Pomegranate has a high level of flavonoid known as anthocyanin, the phytonutrient responsible for the red, purple, and blue colors in foods such as raspberries, blackberries, and red cabbage. Studies show that anthocyanin has anti-inflammatory properties and can help in the prevention of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some kinds of cancer.
How to enjoy: Pomegranate is surely delicious on its own, but you can also add the juicy seeds to garnish your favorite dessert or mix part sparkling water and part pomegranate juice for a refreshing antioxidant-rich mocktail (a cocktail without alcohol).
You may know horseradish from the spicy condiment that occasionally makes its way onto the dinner table, but did you know that the horseradish root is a part of the Brassica family—along with broccoli, cauliflower, radish, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage? Horseradish has been shown to have antimicrobial, antiseptic, and antioxidant properties, making it a good addition to your diet.
How to enjoy: Buy the condiment already prepared, then try grating some fresh horseradish to top off your favorite protein or vegetable dish and prepare your palate for a spicy kick. Try mixing some fresh horseradish into your mashed potatoes or use it in a sandwich for some extra zip.
There are many ways to explore eating nutritious food all winter long. Enjoy the many nourishing flavors winter foods can bring and get creative with enticing ways to gather and savor your wintertime meals.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
Interested in learning how to become healthier and stronger? Want to choose the best foods, exercises, and lifestyle practices to benefit your unique mind-body type? Sign up for our introductory online course with Deepak Chopra, Discovering Ayurveda, and you’ll discover how to incorporate ancient healing wisdom into your daily life. Learn More.