With the fall and winter holidays come, for many of us, an extra five pounds. The fortunate ones managed to lose last year’s holiday weight, and likely have the best of intentions of not gaining them back. If those five pounds never really quite rolled off, you may be alarmed at the prospect of adding an additional five more as another season sets in.
Colder weather and longer nights can bring out carb cravings in even the most dedicated avoider of bread, bagels, fruit cake, muffins – need I go on? And a relative chill in the air can tempt us to slow down and hunker down indoors, resulting in exercising less and eating more.
But in this blog post, let’s look not at what you shouldn’t eat during the winter—we all know that song and dance upside down and backward already—but what nature’s bounty has in store for even the most health-conscious among us at this time of year. These five seasonal superfoods, integrated into dishes that align with the low-carbohydrate dietary plan we recommend to our Ageology patients, will ensure satisfaction and deliciousness without health hazards or unwanted weight gain.
Seasonal Superfood #1: Apples
With over 7,500 varieties of apple, this fruit is available year-round. The best apples ripen in fall-like weather. Apples are as low on the glycemic index as fruits go. More tart apples like Granny Smith and Fujis are lower in sugar than Red Delicious, Pink Lady and other sweeter varieties. Apples are rich in polyphenols and fiber (4 grams per apple), both of which help reduce absorption of glucose into the bloodstream and increase insulin’s effectiveness at moving sugars out of the bloodstream and into cells. Apples are also rich in pectin, a type of fiber that helps lower levels of “bad” fats like LDL and triglycerides. Apple fiber also helps maintain healthy balance of GI bacteria, which improves digestive health.
The best way to enjoy apples is whole, with the skin on. Add chopped apple to hot cereals or yogurt or toss into salad greens with pumpkin seeds.
Seasonal Superfood #2: Pumpkin
Fall brings delicious pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin spice lattes. But pumpkin and other winter squashes are so good for you that it’s worth finding ways to incorporate them into your diet that don’t also involve copious amounts of sugar and white flour. A cup of pumpkin contains 3 grams of fiber, only 48 calories, 564 milligrams of potassium, and lots of beta-carotene. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of zinc, fiber and healthy omega-3 fats.
To cook a whole pumpkin, cut in half, scoop out the seeds and pulp, then cut in smaller pieces. Place pieces in a baking dish with water in the bottom (just enough to cover the bottom of the dish) and cover tightly, then cook at 325 degrees until soft. Remove the peel and mash the pumpkin; store unused portions in the freezer.
Try this spicy Southwest Pumpkin Soup recipe, which we found at Chef Sommer Collier’s website, A Spicy Perspective: http://www.aspicyperspective.com/2012/10/spicy-pumpkin-soup-recipe.html.
Seasonal Superfood #3: Brussels Sprouts
The much-maligned Brussels sprout is actually a baby cabbage. It can be found sold on the stalk this time of year. As a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, this superfood is rich in glucosinolates. Strong research evidence supports consuming glucosinolates from cruciferous vegetables as a way to help prevent cancer. In fact, Brussels sprouts contain more glucosinolates than any other cruciferous vegetable. They also contain more than the daily requirement of vitamin C and vitamin K.
Try Brussels sprouts roasted in a 400 degree oven: trim the tough ends and cut larger sprouts in half while the oven pre-heats. Toss in olive oil and sprinkle on salt and pepper, and cook until soft, but not mushy. Sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of crumbled bacon or a small amount of good Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese before serving.
Seasonal Superfood #4: Pears
For a fruit, pears are very high in fiber (5.5 grams per pear) and low-glycemic. If you’re going to eat pears, however, definitely eat the peel—it contains many times more anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory flavonoids than the flesh of the fruit, and is the main source of fiber. Pears also are rich in nutrients that help prevent cancer (e.g. cinnamic acids) and type 2 diabetes (the Nurses’ Health Study found that those who eat both pears and apples regularly are less likely to develop this disease).
Eat pears whole and fresh. They can also be added to hot cereals, yogurt and salads.
Seasonal Superfood #5: Cauliflower
Cauliflower is, like Brussels sprouts, a Brassica vegetable. It can be found in white, purple, orange and green varieties. Rich in carotenoids, sulforaphane and other glucosinolates, cauliflower’s mild flavor makes it a good bet for picky eaters, and makes a good substitute for more starchy foods in a low-carbohydrate diet.
A few ideas for cauliflower: Roast cauliflower florets in a 450 degree oven after tossing in olive or coconut oil with salt, pepper and spices to taste. Or steam a whole head of cauliflower until nearly done, then grate a small amount of good Gruyere cheese over it and put briefly under the broiler until the cheese melts. Add to mashed potatoes for more nutrition and lower carb count. Cauliflower is fine eaten raw or lightly steamed if you like the flavor—add it to a veggie plate with hummus dip.
Overall, the key to staying lean and feeling great through the winter months is to eat more vegetables and low-glycemic fruit and to stay away from refined sugars and carbohydrates whenever possible. Check our blog at Ageology.com often for more ideas about how to eat smart and still enjoy delicious and healthy food.
Photo credit: carascravings.com