Even living in sunny California during fall and winter when the days are shorter and a little bit chilly, I like to prepare hearty winter produce that also happens to fall into the “superfoods” category. Their many disease fighting and anti-aging properties make them some of my top produce. These fruits and vegetables lend themselves to recipes that serve as comfort foods during the cold, dark winter months, but they have the added benefit of doing great things for your body.
Pumpkin – You may only associate pumpkins with Halloween, but fresh pumpkins are available from October through February. They contain large amounts of potassium (33 percent more than a medium banana) and beta carotene without a boat-load of calories—49 per cup mashed. The high amounts of potassium in pumpkins works with sodium to balance the amount of water in the body. A diet high in potassium helps keep blood pressure at a healthy level and assists with the prevention of strokes. Pumpkins contain more than 2400 mcg of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for eye health.
If you like pumpkins (and you should), you’ll love my recipe for Stuffed Sugar Pumpkins from The Age Beautifully Cookbook. I also like to make a Moringa Vegetable Soup, which contains powdered moringa leaves, pumpkin, eggplant, okra, onions and many other vegetables. The moringa leaf powder is rich in protein, vitamins A, B, C and minerals. It’s a delicious, high FoodTrient meal in a bowl!
Brussels Sprouts –These mighty sprouts represent a cancer-fighting powerhouse and are part of the cruciferous cabbage family which have more cancer-preventative nutrients than any other category of vegetables. They contain a chemical called sinigrin that suppresses the development of pre-cancerous cells, causing them to self-destruct. The sulfur-containing compounds in Brussels sprouts are what activate the cancer-fighting enzyme systems in your body. Brussels sprouts are available fresh September through March. They are delicious and take on an almost creamy texture when they are roasted with olive oil, a little salt, pepper and a splash of lemon juice.
Sweet Potatoes – A staple during the fall and winter months, sweet potatoes owe their bright orange color to the carotenoid, beta-carotene. Beta carotene is an antioxidant that can ward off free radicals that damage cells through oxidation, contributing to the aging process. Sweet potatoes are also a good source of heart-healthy potassium as well as containing phytochemicals such as quercetin, a strong anti-inflammatory. They are delicious just baked in the oven, but I also like to include them in dessert. I make a Sweet Potato and Jackfruit Delight for a delicious and nutritious alternative containing jackfruit, which is plentiful in Southeast Asia; coconut milk, which hydrates the skin and helps keep it elastic; and sweet potatoes, which also deliver a big dose of fiber and beta carotene. I also have a delicious recipe for Tropical Yams in my new cookbook, The Age Beautifully Cookbook.
Cauliflower – A member of the nutrition-packed, cruciferous cabbage family along with Brussels sprouts and broccoli, cauliflower is anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich, and may boost both heart and brain health. Eating cauliflower provides impressive amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, beta-carotene, and much more while supporting healthy digestion and detoxification. It also contains sulforaphane, a sulfur compound that has been linked to killing cancer stem cells, which can slow tumor growth. A great way to enjoy cauliflower is to bake it with olive oil, salt and pepper. I like to add turmeric (an anti-inflammatory) to give it an extra nutrition boost. I also include it in my Tofu Vegetable Stir Fry, which provides plenty of health-boosting vegetables, and my Cauliflower Steaks with Herbed Goat Cheese (featured in my new cookbook, The Age Beautifully Cookbook). In addition to the cauliflower and protein-packed tofu, it contains broccoli, a good source of lutein, which can help prevent macular degeneration. Both the cauliflower and the kale in the recipe have phytonutrients that protect against cancer. I like to use a wok to prepare this dish, but a large skillet will do. Enjoy versatile cauliflower which is in season from September to June.
Pears – Pears are a fiber super star with 5.5 grams in one medium specimen. Fiber plays an essential role in your digestive, heart, and skin health, and may improve blood sugar control, weight management, and more. People who ate a diet high in white-fleshed fruits like pears or apples also had a 52 percent lower risk of stroke, according to an American Heart Association study, likely due to their fiber and phytochemical content. Pears are also rich in potassium, vitamin C and copper. For a delicious and elegant dessert that contains a number of nutritious ingredients, I use pears in my Pear and Apple Tart. Not only is it loaded with fiber from the pears and apples, but it contains pecans and cinnamon, which are high in antioxidants. It is worth noting that when used in sufficient amounts, cinnamon also has anti-blood-clotting agents and anti-inflammatory properties and may help stabilize blood sugar levels. You’ll find fresh pears in season August through February.
Rutabagas – Just saying the name makes me chuckle, but this cross between a turnip and a cabbage is very high in fiber and rich in vitamin C with one cup providing 53% of the daily recommended value. Rutabagas are members of the cruciferous family of vegetables, which includes cauliflower and broccoli, that are rich in antioxidants and anti-cancer phytonutrients. They are also an excellent source of potassium, manganese, B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc, which is essential for immune support and helps protect the body from the effects of stress. Roasted rutabagas make a nutrient-rich substitute for potatoes or once scrubbed, peeled and sliced are great with a dip like hummus. I tried adding them to stir fry dishes and it was delicious. While their peak season is October through April, rutabagas are available year-round.
Parsnips – An exceptionally sweet root vegetable, parsnips taste like a carrot with a hint of parsley and a little nuttiness. They are rich in fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamin C. Vitamin C is an immune booster and helpful to cell repair. Potassium is important for offsetting the effects of sodium and avoiding high blood pressure. Roasting brings out the sweetness of parsnips. Add roasted chunks to vegetable soups or even vegetarian chili. Peak season for parsnips is from October to April, but they are available all year.
Grapefruit – An excellent source of vitamin C as well as pantothenic acid, copper, vitamin A, fiber, potassium, biotin, and vitamin B1, grapefruit is also a good source of dietary fiber. The pink, red or ruby varieties contain the carotenoid phytonutrient lycopene, which is found to be a more powerful antioxidant than other carotenoids such as beta-carotene and research has suggested it may significantly reduce risk of stroke. Studies have also indicated that people with a diet high in lycopene have a lower risk of certain cancers, particularly prostate cancer. In my first cookbook, The Age GRACEfully Cookbook, you’ll find an easy and delicious recipe for Spinach and Grapefruit Salad, which has the benefit of iron-rich spinach as well. Grapefruit is in season from September to April, though it’s available in produce departments all year.
Tangerines – With bright orange skins that peel easily into convenient segments, tangerines may just be the perfect snack food. They are less acidic than other citrus fruit and pack a wallop of nutrition. Tangerines are an excellent source of anti-aging antioxidant flavonoids, immune-boosting vitamin C, vitamin A for protecting vision, folate for brain function and production of red blood cells, and potassium for regulating heartbeat and good muscle function. They also contain pectin, a healthful fiber and nobiletin, a citrus flavonoid that appears to prevent atherosclerosis and may contribute to preventing the buildup of fat in the liver. Besides eating fresh, use tangerines in salads, mixed into yogurt or dip the segments in melted dark chocolate. Use the juice in dressings and marinades for a bright, sweet taste. Also known as mandarins, most tangerines are at their juicy peak December through February, but you can find fresh Pixies December through June, and Clementines November through March.