By Bob Barnett
The Rumor: Certain winter foods have special qualities that help us ward off diseases and live longer
"Superfood." The very word sounds like a fantasy. You’d think downing "superfoods" could help you leap tall buildings or become invisible. But do winter superfoods really exist?
The Verdict: Some winter foods do have impressive powers, but it's your overall diet that really matters
There really are superfoods, and, yep, some of them grow in winter. But no matter how many good-for-you eats you devour, it’s still your entire dietary pattern that impacts you the most. Vegetarians tend to live longer. People who follow the Mediterranean diet are also reputed to enjoy increased lifespans. You likely know the dietary drill for a long, healthy life: a largely plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, beans and nuts, with less meat, full-fat dairy, refined grains and sweets. “If you shop around the perimeter of the supermarket, you’ll be getting superfoods,” says New Hampshire nutritionist Eileen Behan, RD, LD, author of nine books on family nutrition, who blogs at her website, For the Love of Food. “In my opinion, almost anything that Mother Nature makes is a superfood -- until we mess it up.”
That said, some winter foods are incredibly nutritious, even super. Many contain phytochemicals that can help ward off disease. We gathered a list from some of our favorite nutrition experts. May they keep you superhealthy.
Nuts. If you’ve been a good squirrel and buried tree nuts all fall, now is the time to dig them up. “You may not think of them as seasonal, but nuts, such as walnuts or almonds, are winter superfoods,” says upwave diet and nutrition expert David Katz, MD, MPH. In the latest research, men and women who ate an ounce or so of nuts a day starting in their 30s or 40s were found to be about 20 percent less likely to die over the next 30 years.
Pomegranates. Yes, it’s been hyped, but Katz votes for this fall/winter fruit. It’s super-rich in vitamin C and contains many compounds that are being studied for their anti-cancer effects.
Gourds. Pumpkins, winter squash and sweet potatoes topped all of our experts' superfoods lists. “All pumpkins and winter squash are great, but the more colorful they are, the more they are superfoods,” says nutritionist Mindy Hermann, MBA, RDN, coauthor of The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet. "Sweet potatoes are lower in calories than white potatoes, and super-rich in nutrients." Katz agrees, saying, “Yams and sweet potatoes are very nutritious and make great side dishes or ingredients in soups and stews.”
Warming spices. Behan likes cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, hot chili peppers and turmeric to warm up winter meals (though not all at once). Cinnamon lowers blood sugar and turmeric is powerfully anti-inflammatory, but the truth is “all these spices are anti-inflammatory and have antioxidant power,” she says.
Enjoy your winter superfoods. They’re rich in nutrients that nourish your body and phytochemicals that may help ward off disease. Just remember that no one food will help you live longer. (Or, for that matter, fly.)