30 of the healthiest winter foods
Registered nutritionist, Nicola Shubrook revels her favourite nutrient-rich winter foods. Enjoy a variety of these as part of a healthy, balanced diet to see you through the colder months
What are healthy foods?
Most of us consider the healthiest foods to be ones that pack a hefty nutritional punch and with it, provide plenty of health benefits. The truth is no single food will make a diet healthy or counteract the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle. Instead, we should look at the overall balance of our diet and make it as varied and as nutrient-dense as possible. Here we showcase some of our favourite seasonal foods for the colder months.
Our favourite seasonal foods include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Butternut squash
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Purple sprouting broccoli
- Red cabbage
- Savoy cabbage
- Sweet potatoes
- Swiss chard
Here are our 30 favourite seasonal foods for the colder months:
A winter jewel packed with essential nutrients, beetroot is a useful source of both potassium and iron, minerals that help support healthy blood flow and blood pressure. Beetroot also contains nitrates, compounds which again help promote blood circulation, managing blood pressure and potentially keeping hands and feet warm in the colder weather.
Read more about the amazing benefits of this popular root vegetable.
2. Brussels sprouts
Love them or hate them, brussels sprouts are nutrient-dense and rich in fibre. One serving provides you with your daily vitamin K requirements, as well as fibre and protective plant compounds that may help keep your digestive system run smoothly.
3. Butternut squash
High in fibre, butternut squash is also a useful source of vitamins and minerals. Diets high in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, like butternut squash, are rich sources of beta-carotene, which we convert to vitamin A in the body. This vitamin plays a key role in maintaining eye health and supporting our immune system.
Learn more about the health benefits of this popular winter vegetable.
Carrots contain fibre, beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A) and a number of protective plant compounds, which may help support heart health, including lowering cholesterol.
Read more about the health benefits of carrots. A super versatile and popular vegetable, we love carrots in this simple yet delicious carrot & ginger soup or our roasted carrot, spelt, fennel & blood orange salad which makes a tasty lunch or light dinner.
Whether it's white green or purple, cauliflower is a nutrient-dense staple. It contains both heart-friendly and anti-cancer plant compounds and is also a source of choline which we need for memory and mood.
Related to celery, celeriac is a root vegetable and a great source of fibre which helps improve digestion and promotes gut health.
Celeriac is also a good source of vitamin C, especially when eaten raw. Vitamin C promotes a healthy immune system and is important for wound healing as well as healthy skin, joints and gums.
For inspiring ideas take a look at our top 10 celeriac recipes.
Celery is a powerhouse when it comes to protective antioxidants, with one stalk containing upward of eight different protective plant compounds. This is why celery may help protect against the long-term disease risk caused by free radical damage; this includes improving heart health.
Learn more about the benefits of celery.
With a sweet taste and a low fat content, chestnuts are a little different to other nuts. Rich in carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, they may help protect eyes from blue light damage; while other protective plants compounds such as gallic acid and ellagic acid may support the heart, along with the minerals magnesium and potassium.
Chicory is a useful source of plant defence compounds called polyphenols, these have a protective effect for the plant and for us. An added bonus is that these polyphenols are also prebiotic, which means they provide a source of fuel for the beneficial bacteria that reside in the gut.
We are talking about the actual berries here, rather than juice which can be high in sugar. Cranberries have long been thought to help in the prevention of urinary tract infections, but they may also offer some benefits to gastric ulcers and heart health, thanks to their high antioxidant content.
Check out more health benefits of these ruby red berries.
Rustle up this rustic braised beef with cranberries & spices for a delicious evening meal.
A cruciferous vegetable, like broccoli or cabbage, horseradish earns its healthy status because of its natural antibacterial and anti-cancer properties. Get four of your five-a-day in this steak, beetroot, horseradish & warm lentil salad.
12. Jerusalem artichokes
Jerusalem artichokes are a useful source of potassium which helps regulate blood pressure. They are also rich in plant compounds, including inulin, that may help maintain a healthy body mass, support metabolism and have other protective benefits.
One of the most well-known of the leafy greens, kale is possibly one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables around at this time of year as it's packed full of beneficial nutrients. Its protective plant compounds have been associated with heart health including lower blood pressure as well as anti-depressant benefits.
Learn more about the benefits of kale.
Kohlrabi is a cruciferous vegetable and contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support general health. It's a particularly good source of vitamin B6 that helps reduce inflammation as well as the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Vitamin B6 may also help with combating depression and improving mood.
The humble leek packs a powerful punch; it contains a wide variety of nutrients including vitamins A, C and K, as well as health-promoting antioxidants such as kaempferol which has been linked with a lower risk of heart attacks.
Whether wild or cultivated, winter is mushroom season and with that comes lots of health benefits. Mushrooms appear to help decrease the risk of cancer and are one of the few plant sources of vitamin D which is vital for healthy bones and immunity. In fact, did you know that leaving your mushrooms on the windowsill in daylight helps to increase their vitamin D content?
Check out more health benefits of mushrooms.
Being a rich source of fibre, it's no surprise that parsnips help promote digestive regularity. They may also benefit a number of other gut-related conditions, including reflux and diverticulitis. Being rich in both soluble and insoluble fibre, parsnips help promote a greater mix of beneficial gut microbes.
Learn more about the benefits of adding this winter root to your diet.
UK pears are in season from September to January. As well as being high in fibre and vitamin C, pears are actually a great dietary source of the minerals copper and potassium which we need for a healthy immune system and for heart function.
Read more about the health benefits of pears.
Impress guests with this griddled pear with goat's cheese & hazelnut dressing or make this wonderful winter warm beet, chorizo & pear salad.
Pomegranates are famed for their high antioxidant content, these plant defence chemicals (polyphenols), may help protect cells from damage. As a result, including pomegranates regularly in your diet, may help reduce the risk of cancer as well as high blood pressure, high content cholesterol and other inflammatory conditions.
Read more about the health benefits of pomegranates.
20. Purple sprouting broccoli
Purple sprouting broccoli is packed full of carotenoids, these have anti-inflammatory properties that may hep reduce the risk of chronic disease and improve cognitive function and heart health. Studies suggest purple sprouting broccoli contains higher levels of anti-cancer compounds, protective flavonoids and vitamin C than its green equivalent.
Try this salmon, purple sprouting broccoli & sweet potato mash or whip up a purple sprouting broccoli with garlic & sesame as a side dish.
Quince is a pear-like fruit that must be cooked before eating. It tends to be little-used but offers a host of benefits including being packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre. The fruit contains plant compounds that offer protective, anti-inflammatory and potentially anti-cancer actions.
22. Red cabbage
Red cabbage isn't just for Christmas! It's a good source of vitamin K, which we need for healthy blood clotting, it also contains some magnesium, calcium and zinc – minerals needed for strong bones and teeth. The beautiful purplish colour of red cabbage is thanks to anthocyanins. These pigments have protective antioxidant properties which means they help the body combat the damaging effects of a process called oxidation.
Discover more about the health benefits of this popular cabbage.
Salsify is a root vegetable that has an oyster-like flavour when cooked. It belongs to the dandelion family and looks like a long, thin parsnip with creamy white flesh on the inside and a dark, thick skin on the outside.
Salsify is a good source of iron, which can help support red blood cell formation. This vegetable also contains important minerals for kidney health, including potassium, calcium and sodium. The root contains plant compounds called polyphenols which have anti-cancer properties.
Try these delicious salsify crumpets for a breakfast or light lunch.
24. Savoy cabbage
Savoy cabbage is a rich source of vitamin C, an antioxidant nutrient that, when combined with protective plant compounds, may help protect the body including the brain from chronic disease. Vitamin C also plays an important role in collagen formation, thereby helping to keep joints and skin healthy.
25. Sweet potatoes
26. Swiss chard
A dark green leafy vegetable, Swiss chard, like kale, is packed full of nutrients including vitamin K which supports bone health and may help to reduce the risk of fractures in conditions like osteoporosis. The leaves have the highest content of fibre, magnesium and vitamin C, while the stems are high in potassium.
This winter citrus is a type of mandarin orange and despite its smaller size is packed full of vitamins, including vitamins A, C and B6. Tangerines are rich in protective plant compounds that are found in both their peel and flesh. These important compounds have collectively been found to help protect the brain and reduce the risk of chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
This chilli & tangerine braised lentils recipe makes for a healthy side dish.
Turnip is often overlooked. Being a cruciferous vegetable, like cabbage and cauliflower, turnip contains glucosinolates, plant compounds that may help prevent certain types of cancer, including breast and prostate.
Like other yellow and orange vegetables, turnip contains lutein, a carotenoid that helps protect the eye and may be useful in delaying the onset of age-related conditions such as macular degeneration.
Shaped like the brain, walnuts are an excellent source of the essential fatty acid omega-3. In fact, they contain more omega-3 – which has been shown to help with improving moods and reduce depression – than any other nut. Walnuts also contain the important antioxidant vitamin E, which research indicates may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and improve brain function.
Learn more about the health benefits of walnuts.
Like other members of the brassica family, watercress has impressive qualities. It's a source of plant compounds including protective glucosinolates and polyphenols; it is also a source of the B group of vitamins and beta-carotene, the plant form of vitamin A. Other benefits of watercress include protection of blood vessels and kidneys, as well as anti-inflammatory and antibacterial actions.
Overall, which are the healthiest winter foods?
The truth is, no single food will make a diet healthy or counteract the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle. Instead, look at the overall balance of your diet and make it as varied and as nutrient dense as possible. Aim to include a wide range of seasonal fruit and vegetables, including some from our list – this will save you money, you'll be enjoying them at their nutritional best and it'll naturally add variety to your diet.
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This article was last reviewed on 10 October 2023 by Kerry Torrens.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.