The colder winter weather makes most people yearn for warm comfort foods. Some comfort foods that many of us grew up on though, may not be the best winter foods to help keep our immune systems strong. Food like casseroles, and warm macaroni and cheese, while comforting, can also be a huge source of extra calories. While its not uncommon to put on a few pounds in the wintertime, those unwanted pounds can eventually add up if they stay on from year to year.
However, losing weight right around the holidays can pose its own set of challenges, as depriving yourself of your favorite holiday foods can lead to deprivation binge eating later. Therefore, the best winter diet is to focus on comforting, nutrient-dense foods that are in season this time of year, which can help you maintain a healthy weight and keep your immune system strong.
If you’re wondering what to eat in winter, let’s focus on some super healthy foods that are abundant this time of year. Here is my favorite seasonal food chart for winter and why these foods are important for a strong immune system.
- Sweet potatoes, as well as pumpkins, are rich in beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in your body. Vitamin A helps regulate your immune system and helps ward off infections.
- Nuts provide protein and are a rich source of monounsaturated fats. Protein is used for more than building muscles; it’s also used to make antibodies. These important proteins are used by your immune system to identify and neutralize bacteria and viruses that can make you sick. Research on monounsaturated fats suggests a key role in immune function too, while helping to keep your heart healthy.
- Cranberries bring a festive taste to the holiday table and provide an abundance of heart-healthy antioxidants and phytonutrients that help ward off urinary tract infections and possibly gum disease too. Ongoing research suggests cranberries may play an important role in inhibiting some types of cancers. Dried cranberries are convenient to add to recipes year-round.
To put these best winter foods together for a special New Year’s dish, I suggest trying this recipe adapted from McCormick.com, with an emphasis on less sugar, gluten-free flour and extra orange zest.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon Pecan Topping
- 3 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
- ½ cup packed brown sugar, divided
- 2-3 Tbsp. fresh squeezed orange juice
- 1 tsp. orange zest
- 2 tsp. pure vanilla
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger, divided
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 6 tbsp. butter, cut up, divided
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup gluten-free flour
- 1 cup chopped pecans
After the holidays are over, concentrate on other seasonal food, such as nutrient-rich root vegetables to continue to keep your immune system strong. Root vegetables are an important food in my guide to winter foods.
Root vegetables and tubers (potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips and rutabaga) are abundant this time of year. These vegetables are popular because they can stay fresh for quite some time in a cool dark place. Root vegetables are abundant in vitamin C and are rich in fiber – nutrients that keep your body healthy and immune system strong.
For lots of seasonal food recipes that are taste-tested and simple, check out getactivelacrosse.org. Here is their simple root vegetable recipe:
Honey Glazed Rutabagas and Carrots
- 1 pound diced, peeled rutabagas
- 1 pound diced, peeled carrots
- 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp. honey
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add rutabagas and carrots and cook for 4-5 minutes until fork tender. Drain water and stir in remaining ingredients. Place in a pretty dish and serve hot.
Come January and February, fresh citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C, and come into season and taste their absolute best. Common citrus fruits include oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines and grapefruit. This year, why not try kumquats or even a pummelo, for a nice, immune-boosting, citrusy change.