There’s a perception, once December hits and winter approaches, in-season fresh produce is vastly outnumbered by the sugary, fatty holiday foods that are seemingly everywhere this time of year. While it’s true harvest variety in winter months is small in comparison to summer months, it’s not correct to believe that eating in-season during the winter translates to diminished nutrition. Winter produce, with a few exceptions, means root vegetables and citrus fruits. And, as you’ll see from the examples December has to offer, they pack quite a nutritious punch.
Cauliflower is one rare example of a winter vegetable that doesn’t come from a plant root. Part of the cruciferous family and a close relative of broccoli, cauliflower packs fiber, vitamins C and K, the vitamin B complex, iron, manganese and phytonutrients indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane.
Cauliflower most commonly is white. However, you can find varieties bearing purple or orange. Though each variety may sport a different hue on the outside, their nutrition and flavor profiles are the same.
This bitter-sweet citrus beauty offers fiber, vitamin A, calcium, copper, iron, phosphorus and potassium. An impressive array of vitamins and minerals. But, that’s not all. Grapefruit also contains a wealth of phytonutrients, such as carotenes, multiple flavonoids, lutein, lycopene and xanthins. This combination of nutrients makes grapefruit powerhouses for eye health. This is the good news.
The bad news is grapefruit contains a compound known as furanocoumarins that adversely interact with several prescription medications, including statins. If you’re taking any prescription medicines, it’s important you consult with your doctor or pharmacist to determine whether or not they interact with grapefruit.
I remember my mom commenting one Christmas morning, as I emptied my stocking filled with candy of all varieties, that the stocking stuffers she and her siblings most looked forward to every year were Florida oranges. Imagine how exotic and magical oranges would seem to kids living in New England among the sparseness of the World War II era. What a sweet and juicy treat, indeed, given the fiber, vitamins A, B complex and C; minerals calcium and potassium; and phytonutrients carotenes, cryptoxanthin, hesperidin, lutein, naringenin and zeaxanthin these citrus fruits contain.
Parsnips, a root vegetable, resemble white carrots. They contain fiber, vitamins A, B-1, B-5, B-6, B-9, C, E and K; minerals calcium, copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus and potassium; and several types of falcarinols. Parsnips are sweet with a mild peppery bite. They’re versatile as they can be shaved and eaten raw in slaws or salads and are suitable for a variety of cooking methods. They can be boiled and mashed as a substitute for or in addition to potatoes, cubed and simmered into stews and soups, or roasted and eaten as a stand-alone side. I like them roasted along with sweet carrots and anise-flavored fennel.
Another winter root vegetable, turnips offer vitamin C, pyridoxine, copper and potassium. But, turnip greens are even more nutrient-rich than the plant’s roots. Check out what turnip greens pack: fiber and vitamins A, B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-9, C and K; minerals calcium, iron and manganese; and phytonutrients carotenes, lutein and xanthins. Young turnips can be eaten raw, mature roots should be cooked. They’re best cubed and cooked into stews, soups or casseroles. Raw turnip greens are tough and bitter and should be simmered into soups or stews or braised with onions and garlic.
Turnips are sometimes confused with their close relative, rutabagas. Turnips and rutabagas have nutrition and flavor profiles that are nearly identical. As such, you can interchange them in recipes. Rutabagas are larger than turnips. Turnip flesh is white, while rutabaga flesh has a yellow hue.
Include these in-season, delicious and nutritious fruits and veggies in your holiday meals. See the list below to view the nutrients highlighted in this post and the health benefits they promote.
Vitamin A: Antioxidant promotes immunity function and eye, skin & red blood cell health
Vitamin B-1 (Thiamin): Aids in metabolism of carbohydrates
Vitamin B-2 (Riboflavin): Necessary for converting food to energy
Vitamin B-3 (Niacin): Necessary for generating energy for cells
Vitamin B-5 (Pantothenic Acid): Metabolic necessity
Vitamin B-6 (Pyridoxine): Necessary for blood health and to feel energized
Vitamin B-9 (Folate): Necessary for the creation of new blood cells & fetal development
Vitamin C: Antioxidant that boosts immunity
Vitamin E: Antioxidant promotes healthy skin & eyes and boosts immunity
Vitamin K: Important in protein absorption for healthy blood and bones
Calcium: Electrolyte necessary for strong teeth and bones
Copper: Antioxidant promotes healthy blood and eye, brain, skin and bone tissue
Iron: Antioxidant necessary for blood health
Manganese: Antioxidant important in bone health and blood sugar regulation
Phosphorus: Promotes healthy bones, digestion and hormone regulation
Potassium: An electrolyte that assists in controlling blood pressure
Antioxidants: Class of nutrients that reduce inflammation and repair cell damage by absorbing free radicals throughout the body.
Fiber: Technically not a nutrient but essential for digestive health & an aid in weight control
Phytochemicals/Phytonutrients: Powerful antioxidants found in small amounts in most plant-based foods:
- Carotene (Alpha & Beta): convert to vitamin A; anti-aging & eye health
- Cryptoxanthin: anti-inflammatory carotene
- Falcarinol: studies show it destroys pre-cancer cells in tumors
- Flavonol: heart & respiratory anti-inflammatory flavonoid
- Indole-3-Carbinol: anti-estrogen, cancer fighting properties
- Hesperidin: anti-inflammatory flavonoid
- Lutein: carotene for eye health
- Lycopene: prostate health
- Naringenin: immune system regulating flavonoid
- Sulforaphane: anti-estrogen, cancer fighting properties
- Zeaxanthin: carotene for eye health
Sources: visualnews.com, wisebread.com, nutrition-and-you.com, Harvard.edu, WebMD