Seasonal Eating : What Foods To Enjoy This Winter.

You adjust your wardrobe with the seasons — your diet should be no different, especially because adjusting your diet in this way can benefit your body’s health. As seasonal shifts affect your body, the foods you eat can help you accommodate — or counteract — the changes.

As the weather turns cold, our activity levels tend to drop off and we burn fewer calories. That can lead to weight gain. Extra weight and other winter-related factors, such as declines in levels of vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin), have been associated with increases in blood pressure and cholesterol. Researchers have also noticed that in the cold months, our brains produce less serotonin, a “feel-good” chemical. This may be one reason we often feel so  depressed in winter and try to cheer up by eating cookies and other high-carbohydrate snacks. Your body knows what it needs (even if your brain doesn’t always make the best choices): As it happens, carbohydrates trigger serotonin production.

Your winter challenge: Eat healthful carbs, such as sweet potatoes and whole-grain pasta, to help your blood pressure, cholesterol and mood. Just stick with smart portions that won’t break the calorie bank.

Fix it with food: Potatoes, in season in the winter, are loaded with two blood pressure–lowering compounds: the mineral potassium and chemicals called kukoamines. Just remember that one serving of potato shouldn’t resemble a football — it’s around the size of a computer mouse. And stay away from frying or mounds of butter and sour cream. For healthful oven frites, cut a medium potato (try it with a sweet potato for extra health benefits) into thin wedges, drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt and roast until golden brown. Another serotonin-boosting choice: winter squash, such as butternut and acorn. It gives you a good carb fix along with a shot of potassium, which boots energy and protects the heart. For a quick meal, poke holes in a medium squash and bake until soft; cut in half and scoop out seeds. Fill with your favorite greens, such as baby spinach (they’ll wilt from the heat), and sprinkle with a handful of walnuts.

WHY eat the seasons?

There are a number of good reasons to eat more local, seasonal food:

  • to reduce the energy (and associated CO2 emissions) needed to grow and transport the food we eat
  • to avoid paying a premium for food that is scarcer or has travelled a long way
  • to support the local economy
  • to reconnect with nature’s cycles and the passing of time

but, most importantly, because

  • seasonal food is fresher and so tends to be tastier and more nutritious

Enjoying the Season’s Freshest Foods

In any other season, this would be as simple as making a trip to your local farmer’s market to stock up on the essentials. But many farmers’ markets close down for the winter. In this season of scarcity, you’ll probably need to call around to find a local farm that sells produce throughout the cold months.  Check out www.FoodRoutes.org for a list of farms near you.

Once you find a source and make over your pantry for winter, all that’s left is stirring and savoring. Availability will vary from region to region, but here’s a general list of foods that make winter their season, along with tips on how to incorporate these ingredients into your meals.

Winter Vegetables

  • Beets.  are in season in temperate climates fall through spring, and available from storage most of the year everywhere else. Fresh beets are often sold with their greens still attached.
  • Cauliflower. May be grown, harvested, and sold year-round, but it is by nature a cool weather crop and at its best in fall and winter and into early spring.
  • Kale. This hearty green is a rich source of minerals (including calcium), and although it is available year-round, it actually tastes the sweetest in the winter. To eat, wash leaves thoroughly and tear them into small pieces—discarding the touch stem. Place in a steamer and steam until tender (five minutes). Sauté in garlic butter or olive oil; sprinkle with soy sauce; or toss right into a hot bowl of soup to boost its nutritional content.
  • Leeks. A mild-flavored member of the onion family—and essential ingredient in potato-leek soup—this winter vegetable adds delicious flavor to many recipes. Try them in your favorite winter stew.
  • Radicchio. A type of bitter lettuce, radicchio can be grilled or used in salads.
  • Radishes. Most commonly used in green salads and vegetable trays, this spicy root vegetable can also be cooked as a side dish. Thinly slice radishes and steam them until tender. Then sauté steamed radishes in butter with a few cloves of garlic, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and a sprinkle of dried dill weed.
  • Rutabaga. Another root vegetable, try mashed rutabagas instead of mashed potatoes.
  • Turnips. These spicy root vegetables can be braised, sautéed, pickled, sun-dried, or roasted. As a rule, smaller turnips are usually tastier than large ones

Depending on your region, these citrus fruits may be abundant at this time of the year. If so, enjoy them for the rest of us! While they’re fabulous straight out of the peel, there are some creative alternatives for enjoying these vitamin-rich fruits.

  • Grapefruit. Try an orange-grapefruit-pomegranate compote for a healthy desert.
  • Lemons. Whip up a batch of lemon bars.
  • Oranges. How about some freshly-squeezed orange juice to start your day? Also try adding orange zest to some of your favorite baked goods, like muffins and sweet breads.
  • Tangerines. Toss a peeled tangerine into a blender along with frozen banana chunks and some orange juice for a smoothie
  • Chestnuts. Unless you live near a chestnut grove, you’ll be hard-pressed to find these nuts locally. But December is their season, so here are a few options for preparing these holiday treats. After slicing a slit into their smooth shell, they may be boiled (for 15-30 minutes) or roasted (baked for 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally). Eat them plain or incorporated into a recipe. Boil for 15-30 minutes, and then peel.

Here’s our guide to winter’s bounty.

Look for the winter fruits and vegetables below at farmers markets and in produce departments for the best flavor (and greatest value) in season. Specific crops and harvest dates will depend on your region’s climate and most of these are only available locally in temperate regions

Vegetables

Artichokes
Avocado
Bok Choy
Broccoli
Broccoli Rabe
Brussels Sprouts
Cabbage
Cauliflower
Celery Root
Chestnuts
Jerusalem Artichokes
Kale
Lettuce
Parsnips
Radishes
Rhubarb
Rutabaga
Salsify
Snow Peas
Squash (Winter)
Sweet Potatoes
Turnips (White)
Watercress

Fruits
Bananas
Blood Oranges
Clementines
Cranberries
Grapes (Red)
Grapefruits
Kiwi

Kumquat
Oranges
Passion Fruit
Pears
Persimmons
Pomegranates
Pummelo

Rhubarb
Satsuma Oranges
Tangelo
Tangerine
Ugli Fruit


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