By Cheryl Shaw, Grace Cottage Family Health & Hospital Health Coach
Winter. Fresh fruits and vegetables. When gardens and farmland are buried under snow, it’s easy to think these two don’t go together, but actually, winter offers us a wide array of super healthy, budget-friendly fruits and vegetables to enjoy.
Why is it so important to get plenty of fruits and vegetables year-round? These two categories of foods are powerhouses for the essentials vitamins and minerals that perform hundreds of roles in the body. They are important for growth, healing, repair and maintenance of all of the body’s systems. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can lead to fatigue, illness and disease. Experts suggest we eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day in order to stay healthy.
It’s best to eat the whole plant foods themselves. They provide natural, not synthetic, vitamins and minerals, plus fiber, and disease-preventing phytochemicals not generally available through multi-vitamin pills.
If you’re not already eating the essential amount of fruits and vegetables each and every day, I would like to offer you a healthy challenge: for the next 30 days, pledge to follow the 2 fruits + 3 vegetables formula, and track your effort in whatever way you find easiest. While potatoes and squash are healthy, for the purpose of this challenge, commit to eating 3 servings of non-starchy vegetables each day. One month of doing this will go a long way toward establishing a good habit for life, and ultimately a healthier you!
To calculate serving size, generally speaking one cup is one serving. One large piece of fruit equals one cup. For leafy greens, one packed cup equals one serving. For dried fruit, one half cup is a serving. Fruit juice does not count for this challenge because it lacks the full portion of fiber that the actual fruit provides.
Fruits that are abundant in winter include apples, bananas, pears, pineapple, pomegranates, grapefruit, oranges, and clementines. Fresh is best, but frozen is a good alternative, as long as it isn’t full of added sugar. Frozen fruits generally retain more of the original vitamins and minerals than canned fruits and vegetables. Frozen, colorful berries are an especially good choice during winter. The more colorful the food, the more nutrients it contains, including antioxidants that help to prevent cell damage and reduce inflammation.
What about vegetables during the winter? You may not be able to grow your own lettuce and tomatoes right now, but it’s still easy to incorporate plenty of fresh vegetables into your diet.
First, winter offers an abundance of root vegetables: beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, sweet potatoes, and onions, for example. All of these can be easily and deliciously prepared by chopping them, coating with a small amount of coconut oil, and baking them in an oven. They also work well in soups and stews; add vegetable or chicken broth, and diced chicken if you wish, and let it simmer on the stove while you do other things. Five or ten minutes’ worth of preparation is all that’s required for these healthy dishes.
Also, even in winter, you can find plenty of leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, fresh parsley, and Swiss chard at a grocery store or farmer’s market. These foods are absolutely vital for weight loss, nutrient intake, disease prevention, and good digestion. You can steam them quickly and serve with cider or balsamic vinegar, or mix them in with any other recipe near the end of the cooking process.
Good ingredients for stir-fries include cabbage, broccoli, green beans, snap or snow peas, carrots, mushrooms, and brussels sprouts. All of these can be quickly prepared to add winter-hearty vegetables to a meal. You can also use frozen vegetable combos in a stir fry. Kim chi and other fermented vegetables, including sauerkraut, are also good winter vegetable choices. The list is endless.
My favorite way to get my greens is by making a large salad every day, with mixed greens, sprouts, and other simple vegetables. Other ways they can be enjoyed are drinking them in a green smoothie, sautéing them with onions for a morning frittata, or chopped up and added to a sweet potato hash.
I hope these ideas will inspire you to take the 2+3 fruit and vegetable challenge over the next month. Here’s to a healthier you!
Cheryl Shaw is a licensed Physical Therapist Assistant, Certified Wellness Coach, and Certified Exercise Physiologist with over 19 years of fitness and wellness experience. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Health and Fitness from Springfield College.