Is it just our imagination, or for those of us who live in colder countries like Canada, do we crave more meat and starchy vegetables in winter? What nutrient needs drive those cravings?
Regional foods are likely to be more nutritious because they are in season. Out-of-season foods are often shipped long distances and so they are less fresh by the time we eat them, and are often picked before they are ripe, which can affect their nutrient content.
Frozen vegetables and fruits however, can still be nutrient-dense because they are picked and frozen at peak ripeness. Keeping frozen veggies and fruits on hand will encourage you to include them in meals more often.
As a point of reference, the most common nutrient deficiencies in the US and Canada include Vitamin D, Vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin B12, iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
So what foods provide these important nutrients?
Below are some of the best foods to consume during the winter months in Canada, as they contain the highest amounts of essential nutrients that can boost your immunity.
Garlic, Onions & Ginger – Garlic is an excellent source of Vitamins C, B6, and manganese, which are all important for a healthy immune system. Garlic also contains antiviral properties that can help to fight off various illnesses.
Onions are a great source of Vitamin C, and also contain a good source of Vitamin B6, magnesium, calcium and fiber. Their antioxidant properties can help to fight off infections, reduce inflammation and improve overall health.
Ginger is another powerhouse herb that is known for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. It’s great for soothing sore throats and preventing colds and flu. Ginger also helps to reduce nausea, improve digestion, and even aid in weight loss.
Dark Leafy Greens – Dark, leafy greens such as kale and spinach are excellent sources of Vitamins A, C, E, K and minerals like iron and calcium that help the body fight off infections. They also contain antioxidants that can help to boost immunity. Kale is a powerhouse of nutrients that also contains anti-inflammatory properties.
Kale chips are easy to make at home. Add nutritional yeast and spices to make it even more nutrient-dense. Or try our hearty Caldo Verde Portuguese Green Soup made with potatoes, kale and MCLEAN organic sausage.
Citrus Fruits and Bell Peppers – Citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits are a great source of Vitamin C, which is essential for the body’s immune system. Vitamin C helps to build up white blood cells in the body that fight off infections and viruses. Bell peppers are also a great source of Vitamin C and other nutrients like beta-carotene, folate, and Vitamin B6.
Nuts and Seeds – Nuts and seeds, like almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids that provide essential nutrients to the body. These healthy fats help to fight off inflammation in the body which can cause various ailments like colds and flu. Nuts also contain high amounts of carotenoids which are powerful antioxidants that help to protect cells from damage.
Beans and Legumes such as Lentils and Chickpeas – Beans are an excellent source of protein, zinc, iron, magnesium and potassium; all of which can help to keep the body healthy during the winter months. Soaking beans and legumes in water overnight helps to increase their nutrient density. Soaking helps to break down the phytic acid which can prevent the absorption of certain nutrients.
Fermented Foods – Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and yogurt are rich in probiotics that help to boost the digestive system and maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut. This is important for overall immunity because the gut is responsible for producing immune cells that fight off infection and disease.
Cruciferous Vegetables like Broccoli – Broccoli is an excellent source of Vitamins A and C, as well as dietary fiber and other minerals such as iron and manganese. It also contains antioxidants which can help to protect the body from harmful free radicals that can damage cells and lead to disease. Cauliflower is another cruciferous vegetable that is packed with nutrients.
Root Vegetables – Winter root vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, and turnips are excellent sources of Vitamin A which helps to keep the immune system strong. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect cells from damage.
Mushrooms – Mushrooms are rich in Vitamin D and are known for their antibacterial and antiviral properties, which can help to strengthen the immune system. They contain polysaccharides like beta-glucan, which are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, as well as other immune boosting compounds like selenium and zinc, that help to support healthy cell function.
Wild-Caught Fish – Wild-caught fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids which strengthen the immune system and are important for a healthy heart and brain. Oily fish including salmon and mackerel is also a good source of Vitamin D.
Turmeric – The herb turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. It also contains high amounts of manganese, iron, Vitamin B6, fiber, and potassium which are all beneficial for our health. If you love curry, you’ll love this health-boosting spice! Turmeric can also be added to soups and stews for a boost of flavor and colour.
Organic Bone Broth – Bone broth is loaded with beneficial minerals like zinc, calcium, and iron. It also helps to soothe a sore throat, reduce inflammation, and regulate digestion. Try a MCLEAN organic Turkey or Beef Deli Sandwich with an organic bone broth instead of an overly salty bouillon.
Herbal and Homemade Teas – Drinking herbal teas such as ginger, lemon, and honey-based teas can help to fight off colds and flu. Ginger contains antiviral properties while lemon is known for its high levels of vitamin C. Honey has antibacterial properties that can soothe a sore throat.
Homemade Sore Throat Tea – Simmer lots of raw, chopped ginger root in a big pot for 30 min-1hr. In your mug, combine the ginger water with fresh squeezed lemon and honey for a delicious healing tea.
Eating a balanced meal of nutrient-dense foods such as those listed above will help to keep your immune system strong and ward off any illnesses during the winter months. Check out these “Delicious” nutrient dense recipes for inspiration.
If you’re looking for an excuse to eat more potatoes this winter, know that they’re actually good for you! A medium russet potato includes a healthy dose of vitamin C, B6 and potassium, plus small amounts of other micronutrients like manganese, phosphorus and magnesium. One baked medium russet potato with skin contains 168 calories, 5 grams of protein, 37 grams of carbohydrate and 4 grams of fiber.
Iron can be found in a variety of foods such as dark leafy greens, peas, beans, nuts and seeds, red meat and poultry.
All the B Vitamins can be found in protein rich foods like meat, fish, eggs and dairy so these should be included in your winter diet. Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal sources so vegetarians and vegans should look for fortified foods such as plant milks, cereals and nutritional yeast.
Vitamin B12 is important because it helps to make red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Deficiencies in this nutrient can cause fatigue and anemia. Even if you’re getting enough iron, if you’re not getting enough Vitamin B12, the iron won’t be absorbed properly.
Foods are complex in their nature providing a variety of important vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that work together in ways supplements alone can’t. Consider getting blood work done to identify your personal deficiencies before resorting to supplements.
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. For example, too much Vitamin A can be toxic, while too much Vitamin B12 can interfere with the absorption of other important nutrients. But it’s almost impossible to overdose on these nutrients from food sources.
By focusing on nutrient dense foods that include both animal and plant based sources, eating in season as much as possible, and supplementing with foods rich in protein, fat and essential vitamins, we can ensure our bodies are getting the nourishment they need to stay healthy during the cooler months.
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