How to avoid nutritional deficits when your favorite fruits and vegetables go out of season.
Summer is prime time for farmer’s markets filled with berries, tomatoes, snap peas, and other produce at the peak of season. Freshly picked fruits and vegetables burst with color and flavor, and brim with nutrients.
During winter, however, many fruits and vegetables become harder to find or more expensive. How can you ensure you’re getting enough nutrients in your meals when your favorite fruits and vegetables aren’t available, or are too costly?
Take advantage of the season
Winter might not be prime time for berries, watermelon, and tomatoes, but other colorful fruits and vegetables do reach their peak as the weather cools. Oranges, pomegranate, grapefruit, and kiwi are all winter fruits, and they’re excellent sources of vitamin C. Brussels sprouts, squash, collard greens, kale, onions, turnips, and sweet potatoes are also abundant at this time of year. Squash and sweet potatoes are both plentiful in vitamin A. Dark, leafy greens like mustard greens, spinach, collard greens, and kale are full of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as iron and other minerals.
Pick from what’s available fresh in your local supermarket. The more hues you can incorporate into your meals, the better. “Each season presents many different colors, but I really encourage people to try to eat a rainbow of colors,” said Riska Platt, MS, RD, a nutritionist at Mt. Sinai Hospital’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program and a volunteer with the American Heart Association. “Don’t just have a green salad; add all different colors into the salad. More colors usually means there is good nutritional value in your meal.”
The natural compounds that give oranges, kale, and other winter fruits and vegetables their brilliant hues also make them abundant sources of phytochemicals. These plant pigments protect cells against the damage that can lead to illnesses like cancer and heart disease.
Are frozen or canned as healthy?
The more recently your produce was picked, the better. But when fresh fruits and vegetables are in short supply, frozen is a good alternative. Companies pick produce when ripe, and freeze it quickly to preserve its flavor and color. So when you defrost it, you’ll get most of the original nutrients. One study found the vitamin content of frozen fruits and vegetables equal to — and sometimes even greater than — that of fresh.
Canned produce is also a good substitute for fresh. In fact, people who eat canned fruits and vegetables eat better in general, research finds, getting more of nutrients like potassium, protein, vitamin A, and calcium, and less fat in their diet. If you’re buying produce frozen or canned, read the labels. Try to avoid products with added sodium, sugar, cream or cheese sauces, and sweet syrups, which add calories and fat.
Don’t skimp on vitamin D
You get most of your vitamin D from your body’s own production when your skin is exposed to the sun. During the winter months, this “sunshine” vitamin is in short supply, particularly in northern climates where the sun barely peeks above the horizon between December and March.
You need vitamin D to not only protect your bones but also prevent diseases like cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Make up for what you’re not getting from the sun by eating foods rich in vitamin D, such as fortified milk and orange juice, as well as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and eggs. If you still can’t get enough of this nutrient from your diet, ask your doctor about adding a vitamin D supplement.
Add up nutrients
No matter where you get your foods — fresh, frozen, or canned — this winter, make sure you’re eating your recommended daily servings. For adults, the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines recommends 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables. Also incorporate whole grains, lean protein, and dairy into your daily diet to maximize nutrition.
January 18, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN