You know what they say – you are what you eat! This classic expression proves itself beyond its charm: studies show that eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts, and legumes have a bolstering impact on our immune systems, leaving us less prone to illness and chronic disease. Superfoods shine amongst the healthiest of these foods, noted for their high density of nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants. We’ve rounded up a list of six of these powerful treats alongside a bone-warming, hearty soup recipe to get you started on your winter boost!
Sweet Potatoes: cousins of traditional spuds, sweet potatoes are loaded with nutrients, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. A huge source of beta-carotene that the body converts into vitamin A, sweet potatoes do wonders for an immunity boost, promote healthy vision, and are great for maintaining gut health, too. Their sweet flesh requires little to no added fats or sugars to make their flavor sing. Available all year round, with their peak season being late October through December, forgo the traditional casserole and try using them in a Sweet Potato Pie, Pancakes, or adding them to a Hearty Vegetarian Tuscan Kale Bean Soup (see recipe).
Blackstrap Molasses: the derivative of the byproduct of sugar cane juice that has been boiled three times, blackstrap molasses is produced after the first boiling which produces sugar known as cane syrup, then the second boiling which produces molasses, and finally, the third boiling which produces this dark, slightly bitter, and highly viscous version. Blackstrap molasses is loaded with vitamins and minerals, such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B6, making it a great dietary supplement for preventing osteoporosis, asthma, and anemia. Enjoy it stirred into a hot beverage, in Gingerbread, or to add depth of flavor to homemade barbeque sauce.
Be sure to also consume vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables, like oranges, kiwi, kale, tomatoes and broccoli, to help the body absorb iron.
Broccoli: a powerhouse of nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants, broccoli, part of the cruciferous vegetable family, is available year round with its peak season being October through April. This superfood is rich in vitamins K and C, folate, beta-carotene, calcium, potassium, and fiber. Enjoy it raw or cooked, broccoli is a one-stop-shop for essential nutrients and vitamins. Steaming is the recommended method to maintain the most folate and antioxidants. If sautéing, use extra-virgin olive oil to preserve the phytonutrients and vitamin C, which are absorbed better with the addition of healthy fat.
Kale: From the same vegetable family as broccoli, kale is one of the most antioxidant and nutrient rich of any leafy green. It’s loaded with beta-carotene, vitamin K, and vitamin C, but also contains omega-3 fatty acid and antioxidants. One cup of raw kale has more vitamin C than that of an orange! If that’s not enough to chew on, kale also contains iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Kale is best harvested in the fall and winter, so the next time you reach for a leafy green, why not give kale a try?
Blackberries: giving blueberries a run for their money, blackberries are an excellent source of vitamins A, C, E, and K, beta-carotene, potassium, calcium, folate, and fiber. Blackberries are also loaded with antioxidants, especially anthocyanins, a flavonoid that contains anti-inflammatory and anti-viral health benefits. Need more proof? Blackberries have half as much sugar as blueberries, are almost double the fiber content, and are higher in vitamin C. With a typical picking season July through August in the north, blackberries are now available mostly year round. Add a healthy scoop of blackberries to Greek yogurt and drizzle with honey, or over oats for a fibrous and hearty breakfast.
Honey: used for centuries as a natural sweetener and for medicinal purposes, antioxidant-rich honey is a natural immunity booster. The liquid gold has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, is a natural cough suppressant, and sleep aid. Studies suggest that regular honey consumption can also help to lower blood pressure and triglycerides, increase energy levels, and help maintain healthy cholesterol. Darker honeys have more antioxidants and antibacterial properties, with raw honey considered the healthiest. Note: raw honey should not be consumed if pregnant and no honey should be given to children under the age of one.