As the weather cools down, you may be looking for foods to help warm you up. And thankfully, there are a variety of in-season foods that can not only provide comfort on a cold winter day, but may offer health benefits in the process.
Here are the top five dietitian-approved cold weather foods you will want to start adding to your plate today.
Brussel sprouts. This cruciferous vegetable, which is in season from September through March, can be incorporated into winter dishes in a variety of ways. “Brussel sprouts can be enjoyed raw, sliced thinly, and tossed in a salad, or are good roasted and tossed with chopped walnuts and balsamic vinegar for a side dish,” shares Pittsburg-based culinary nutritionist Laura M. Ali, MS, RDN.
Not only can this dark green veggie flavor your meals, but its rich nutrient profile may boost health as well. In addition to providing a good source of fiber and vitamin C, Brussel sprouts are also rich in vitamin K, a nutrient that may help support bone growth and strength. And that is great news to anyone who is working to improve bone health. “A recent review in the Journal of Bone Metabolism found that vitamin K when combined with calcium and vitamin D may help in preventing bone deterioration in postmenopausal women,” adds Ali.
Butternut squash. The cold weather months are the perfect time to experiment with adding squash into your meal plan. And butternut squash is a sweet, nutrient powerhouse that you don’t want to miss. “For an easy way to enjoy this squash, cut it into even-sized chunks and roast it on a sheet pan. Then, simply season with salt and pepper or try some warming spices like cumin and smoked paprika for depth of flavor and a smoky edge,” explains Andrea Kirkland, MS, RD, owner and founder of Culinary Med Ed.
In addition to the warm flavors and bright color, butternut squash can amp up the nutrient profile of your plate as well. “This squash provides a source of fiber, vitamin C, and potassium,” adds Kirkland.
Beets. Beets are in-season through late fall, but can be found on grocery shelves year-round. This colorful root vegetable can be incorporated into a variety of dishes from salads, to stir fries, and even added into soups. And adding them to your plate won’t just make your taste buds happy, but may benefit heart health as well. “Beets are a natural source of nitrates, which may help with blood pressure regulation and improved blood flow to our brains,” shares Ali.
You can buy whole beets and enjoy them raw or roasted. Or if you are looking to save time with meal prep, Ali offers a simple solution. “You can buy small packages of them cooked, seasoned, and ready to use. Then, enjoy them on their own or mixed into a salad or roasted with other vegetables.”
Kale. This incredibly versatile leafy green vegetable is often harvested in the late fall and winter months. It is often touted as a nutrition powerhouse for a good reason. “This cruciferous green is rich in nutrients such as vitamins A, C, and K and additional sulfur-containing compounds such as glucosinolates that may help prevent cancer,” explains Kirkland. “In addition, kale may positively impact your eyesight thanks to its high content of antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been associated with a reduced risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.”
Sure, kale can be a great base for salad, but when the weather cools down, you may be looking for a warmer way to enjoy it. Thankfully, kale can be steamed, sautéed, or roasted on its own or along with a variety of vegetables. You can even baked it into crispy ‘chips.’ And if you have leftovers, Kirkland offers the perfect solution. “Tear the leaves and stir them into soups and stews for a pop of color and added nutrients.”
Soup. Nothing warms you up more than a piping hot bowl of soup on a cold winter day, but that’s not the only benefit this dish may offer. Research has found individuals who consume soup regularly may demonstrate better overall diet quality, including an increased intake of fiber and lean protein with less fat, than those who do not consume it often. In addition, consuming soup has been shown to improve overall feelings of fullness which may aid in portion control throughout the rest of the day.
And the benefits don’t stop there. “Soup is hydrating and can be rich in many vitamins and minerals thanks to the ingredients it includes, such as vegetables,” explains Jamie Feit, MS, RDN, owner of Jamie Feit Nutrition. Of course, what you add, or don’t add, to your soup can make a difference. Limit soups with large amounts of saturated fat from ingredients such as heavy cream and excessive amounts of added sodium. If buying pre-made broth, try selecting a low sodium or no sodium option. Instead, opt to fill your bowl with a variety of vegetables and seasoning that may benefit health. “I like to recommend adding turmeric, which contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, to soup to give it a golden color. And when you add pepper, this can enhance the action of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric,” adds Feit.
Soup also is an ideal way to ramp up your intake of nutrient-dense vegetables during the colder months. Butternut squash and beets can be pureed into a creamy, thick base for a sweet and savory option while kale and Brussel sprouts can easily be added into a vegetable broth along with beans, lentil, or beef to make a hearty winter soup or stew. Additional vegetables to consider tossing into your bowl this time of year include carrots, which are rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene, along with onions which contain the anti-inflammatory compound quercetin.