Ways to Eat for the Season + Bonus Recipe
By Alia Elias, O2X Nutrition Specialist (Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine, M.S.O.M., GAPS practitioner
Winter is historically, biologically, and symbolically a time of contraction — for contemplation and hibernation. Our body temperature drops a little, we tend to want to eat more, and we crave heartier foods. Coming off the expansive energy of summer, this can feel like a polar opposite. Consequently, our diets must adjust to account for the change in our bodies, our activity levels, and the weather.
Taking that all into account, here are 4 Ways you can eat appropriately for the season:
1. Eat seasonally-available foods: To help our bodies optimize our health, it is a good idea to eat seasonally as much as possible in order to enjoy the foods that nature offers during the winter months. Foods that are in season are naturally at their peak in nutritional value and also tend to taste better than out of season foods (1). The inherent wisdom in nature makes it easier to take better care of ourselves if we pay attention. The vibrant oranges, yellows, and greens that winter vegetables offer contain an endless array of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. During the winter months, which include the cold and flu season, foods high in vitamin C, such as grapefruit, other citrus fruits, and peppers are in season to support the immune system when it is in need the most.
2. Add warming-spices: With a slight drop in body temperature, and with colder temperatures outdoors, we can benefit from incorporating many different warming spices into our foods. Many holiday dishes contain spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, turmeric, and peppercorns; these add flavor, depth, and warmth to our holiday meals. Many of these spices are antimicrobial, combat inflammation, and support the immune system. Cinnamon is a great choice to add to baked goods, as it has cholesterol and lipid-lowering effects (2). Cinnamon can also lower blood sugar by slowing carbohydrate breakdown in the gut and improving insulin sensitivity (3, 4, 5). Experimenting with adding different spices in teas, soups, and other dishes can warm the body and boost the immune system.
3. Stick to hot foods: Historically, we tend to leave cold salads behind in the summer and fall months in exchange for soups and stews full of meats, vegetables, and grains in the winter. These one pot meals are easy to prepare and also hearty and satisfying. Because our digestion slows down in colder months, for some people, filling our plates with cooked rather than raw food allows for easier digestion.
4. Make salads and vegetable choices heartier: Over the holidays, nutrients and flavor can be added to the meal when a cooked salad is incorporated. Roast a large pan of any combination of carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and sweet potato. Season with garlic, sea salt, pepper, coconut oil, or butter and a few spices such as cinnamon, sage, and thyme. The vegetables will caramelize a bit and taste delicious. Then, create a salad by adding some nuts or seeds, cheese, and salad dressing. Consider adding pomegranate seeds for more flavor and antioxidants. Another way to get more seasonal vegetables into your holiday diet is to add bacon or pancetta to your meals. Adding diced bacon can bring more flavor and the added benefit of extra fat for satiety. Eating more starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, squash, turnips, parsnips and carrots will counteract the potentially weight-gaining tendency that we get in the winter, and can replace other calorie-dense foods, while providing ample nutrition and fiber.
More tips for eating and cooking healthy during the winter months:
- Try making fresh dishes in place of popular casseroles. A fresh green bean salad with white beans, slivered almonds, and lemon zest is a nice alternative to the traditional green bean casserole that contains a breaded topping.
- Use dried fruit, such as raisins and dates, instead of sweeteners when cooking or baking to cut down on sugar content. Also, adding vanilla extract and cinnamon will lend a little sweetness.
- Adding fats, such as bacon or pancetta, crumbled goat or feta cheese, and nuts or seeds such as walnuts, pecans, or almonds to vegetable dishes adds a lot of flavor and also contributes to feeling full.
- Aim to fill half your meal plate with vegetables. Then, scan the other options to include those splurges you can’t access easily the rest of the year and choose wisely.
Many vegetables found in winter months tend to be sweeter due to their ability to retain more water in colder temperatures and also contain some notable nutrient qualities. These include parsnips, carrots, rutabagas, pomegranates, red cabbage, sweet potatoes and many varieties of squashes. Radishes, artichokes, cranberries and turnips can also be readily found in winter months. Kale, a cruciferous vegetable, has a solid reputation for good reason. It is one of the most nutritious winter foods we have and can hold up in freezing temperatures. Just one cup of kale contains the daily recommended amount of vitamins C, A, and K. It also contains B vitamins, calcium, copper, manganese, potassium and magnesium as well as many antioxidants (1). Brussels sprouts are also a nutrient powerhouse and winter-hearty. One cup of brussels contain 137% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin K (2). They also contain vitamins A and B, and the minerals manganese and potassium. They are full of fiber and alpha lipoic acid, a potent antioxidant, both of which are proven to help stabilize blood sugar (3,4). Swiss chard is another winter leafy green, containing plant pigments called betalains which have been shown to reduce inflammation and decrease LDL cholesterol, lowering risk of heart disease (5). It also contains copious vitamin A and K, as well as vitamin C, magnesium and manganese (6).
While it’s ideal to eat as seasonal as possible, it is most important to eat a variety of colorful foods year-round to maximize nutrients. Visiting local farms and farm stands is beneficial for both you and the farm, since supporting the farm allows it to continue to provide food. Also, foods found locally often contain more nutrients and taste better than store-bought foods, since the storage of foods causes the components that give foods their flavor and health benefits to decrease. It can be fun to see what’s available at different times of the year to avoid getting stuck into ruts with meal preparation, and you might even discover something new. By incorporating new seasonal foods into your diet, eating healthy can be less of a chore, and can be fulfilling or even exciting!
Roasted Delicata Squash Rings
Coconut oil 2-3 T
Spice mixture: ½ tsp sage, ½ tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp nutmeg
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to convection bake 375 degrees. Rinse squash and slice into rings roughly ½ inch wide. Scoop out any seeds and pulp. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread with room temperature coconut oil. Also lightly cover each squash slice with coconut oil, then lightly sprinkle spice mixture over both sides of squash slices. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until browned, then turn slices and bake for another 10 minutes.