by Jessica Remitz
As sad it was to say goodbye to those ripe summer tomatoes and fresh watermelon, there are a variety of delicious and nutrient-packed vegetables that hit their peak just as the temperature begins to drop. We’ve asked Vandana Sheth, registered dietitian, nutritionist, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to share a list of the best veggies in season during the winter along with the health benefits and cooking tips for each.
“While we often think of summer as the season most abundant in produce, winter vegetables are not to be overlooked,” Sheth said. “Enjoying foods in season will maximize the nutritional benefits and flavor profile of your meals.”
Mushrooms provide a burst of flavor without adding many calories to a meal while also having immunity-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties, Sheth said. Some, like shiitake, may lower cholesterol and fight cancer. Mushrooms are also rich in Selenium, an antioxidant that protects against heart disease, aging and some cancers. As Selenium is often found in meat, mushrooms are a wonderful source of the nutrient for vegetarians.
Cooking tips: One of the best ways to enjoy mushrooms is raw in a salad or as a side. Sheth said you can also saute them in a bit of olive oil and garlic to give the mushrooms an extra kick of flavor while retaining their nutrients. You can chop mushrooms, stir fry them, and serve them on top of toast as bruschetta for a holiday party appetizer!
With similar health benefits to cabbage, bok choy reaches its peak during winter months. This leafy green is an excellent source of vitamin K, which helps blood clot and plays a role in healthy bones.
Cooking tips: Bok choy can be steamed as a side or stir-fried into a main dish. Just be careful not to over-cook it, Sheth said, which can reduce both nutrients and flavor.
Loaded with fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants, broccoli is an excellent, low-calorie winter vegetable. Filled with calcium, iron, potassium, and vitamins B, E and K, broccoli can protect against certain cancers, heart disease, stroke, vision impairment, and bone loss, Sheth said. Purple broccoli maintains all of the health benefits of its green variety plus its violet hue may be an even more powerful cancer fighter because of its anthocyanin, another antioxidant.
“A 2012 study found that purple sprouting broccoli contains higher levels of antioxidants than green broccoli even after cooking, which decreases the amount of vitamins and antioxidants in both varieties,” she said.
Cooking tips: Had enough raw broccoli in salads or steamed broccoli as a side? Get creative and try it in a soup, stew, casserole or sliced extra thin in a broccoli slaw.
Also known as celery root, this bulb is rich in fiber, vitamin B6, and potassium, Sheth said. Celeriac may also fight cancer, particularly colon cancer, so be sure to pick it up before its peak season ends in December.
Cooking tips: Try roasting it alongside other fall and winter veggies with a little olive oil, fresh herbs and spices, Sheth said, or puree it in place of mashed potatoes at your next holiday meal.
In addition to the benefits of white cauliflower, like vitamin C, potassium, and a low calorie count, orange cauliflower is also bred with beta-carotene, giving it 25 times more vitamin A than white cauliflower, Sheth said.
Cooking tips: Consider baking orange cauliflower in a 350 degree oven with olive oil, salt, and additional spices like cumin or paprika for 25 to 30 minutes until the florets are slightly browned, Sheth said. Serve as-is or puree and serve instead of mashed potatoes at the dinner table.