I frequent my local farmer’s markets year round, and while I adore summer selections like berries, cherries, and melon, I also get excited for winter’s bounty. Here are five of my in-season favorites, why they’re so good for you, and easy, delicious ways to incorporate them into meals and snacks.
One cup of beets contains more than 30 percent of your daily folate needs, a B vitamin that helps the nervous system function. Too little folate has been linked to mental fatigue, forgetfulness, and insomnia, and several common medications can deplete the body’s supply of folate, including cholesterol-lowering drugs, anti-inflammatory meds, and birth control pills. This root veggie has also been shown to significantly boost endurance. When UK researchers asked athletes to sip either 16 ounces of organic beetroot juice or a placebo, those who downed the real thing cycled for up to 16 percent longer.
How to eat more: Include raw beets when juicing, or remove the skin with a vegetable peeler, shred or grate, and add to garden salads. Beets are also fantastic roasted, then drizzled with balsamic vinegar (note: cooking beets does diminish the folate content). Just peel, slice thinly, spread the slices on a roasting pan, and mist or brush with extra virgin olive oil. Roast at 400° F for about 25-30 minutes for two medium beets.
Don’t forget the s! Brussels sprouts are named after the capital of Belgium, where they originate. This powerhouse member of the cruciferous vegetable family (which also includes kale, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower), contain natural compounds that have been shown to disable or wipe out cancer-causing substances. Brussels sprouts have also been shown to help improve osteoarthritis and support immunity. One cups packs just 60 calories, provides 15 percent of your daily fiber needs, and has more than 500 mg of potassium, more than a medium banana. Potassium acts as a natural diuretic, to lower blood pressure and combat bloat. It also helps nerves and muscles function properly, and has been tied to preserving muscle mass.
How to eat more: My two favorite ways to enjoy these “mini cabbages” are to oven roast or grill them, especially baby Brussels sprouts. To roast, remove the outer leaves, wash, and cut in half. Toss with extra virgin olive oil, place on a baking sheet, and roast at 350° F for about 15 minutes per cup. Or slice off the bottom stems, spear with wooden skewers, and grill, turning every 5-8 minutes to cook evenly on all sides (they’re fantastic as is, or brushed with sun-dried tomato pesto after grilling).
I adore fresh cranberries, and they’re only available for a short time (they’re still at my local market—check yours). You’ve probably heard that these ruby gems help prevent urinary tract infections. They accomplish this by preventing bacteria from being able to cling to the walls of the urinary tract. The same reaction happens in your stomach to prevent ulcers, and in your mouth to fight gum disease. Cranberries also supply vitamin C, and have been shown to contain more phenol antioxidants (known to fight heart disease and certain cancers) than 19 other commonly eaten fruits and veggies.
How to eat more: My go-to recipe for fresh cranberries is to whip up a simple sauce, which can be used as a topping for oatmeal, wild rice, steamed spinach, or even fish. I combine one and a half cups of fresh cranberries with a cup of 100 percent fresh-squeezed orange juice, swirl in a tablespoon of organic maple syrup, and simmer until the cranberries pop. Then remove from heat, and stir in a half teaspoon of cinnamon, quarter teaspoon of cloves, and a teaspoon each of fresh grated ginger and organic orange zest. Cool to room temperature, then serve or chill.
Grapefruit is a potent source of immune-supporting vitamin C. Half of a medium grapefruit supplies 100 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin C, as well as 35 percent for vitamin A, another key nutrient for immunity. The pigment that gives the pink and red varieties their rosy hues also provides lycopene, the same antioxidant found in tomatoes, which has been tied linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, breast and prostate cancer. Consuming red grapefruit has also been shown to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol by as much as 20 percent in 30 days.
How to eat more: I love juicy fresh grapefruit raw, either “as is” or added to garden salads with toasted nuts. But when it’s cold outside, I also enjoy it roasted. Just slice in half, cut a little off the bottom so it won’t roll around, place on a baking sheet, pop it in the oven, and cook at 450° F until it looks browned. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon, fresh grated ginger, or even a savory herb like rosemary.
Fresh whole pomegranate, or pomegranate arils (seeds covered with juicy fruit), are still currently in season, and taking advantage of them may be advantageous for your health. Pomegranate has also been studied for its ability to lower blood pressure, fight inflammation, and decrease the risk of heart disease by preventing “bad” LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized, a reaction that hardens arteries. Pomegranate has also been tied to helping osteoarthritis sufferers, preventing cancer from spreading, and this beautiful fruit contains natural substances called ellagitannins, which have been shown to protect against hormone-dependent breast cancer. Half of a medium pomegranate also packs 25 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin C, along with six grams of fiber, a quarter of the daily recommended minimum.
How to eat more: Sprinkle arils onto oatmeal, yogurt, garden salads, sautéed greens, baked or grilled salmon, cooked quinoa or wild rice, roasted squash or sweet potatoes. You can also use them as a garnish for celery stuffed with almond or cashew butter, fold them into melted dark chocolate, or spoon over a small scoop of coconut milk ice cream.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.