For those with chronic inflammatory conditions, the transition to winter can either be a happy prelude to the holidays, or it can harbor an increased need for winter foods that decrease inflammation in the body. Freezing temperatures have a gift for making some inflammation worse.
It also drives most people indoors, which can hamper daily walks and outdoor activity altogether, which is a key component of managing inflammation.
Combine that with rising stress and loads of inflammatory foods around the holidays and you have a perfect storm of chaos in the body for those trying to manage blood sugar and inflammation.
The good news is that there’s still a ton of winter produce that are amazing sources of antioxidants with anti-inflammatory superpowers.
There really is no shortage of sources of winter superfoods to help nourish and heal for those of us following an anti-inflammatory diet.
There are three main categories of anti-inflammatory winter foods that decrease inflammation that I want to highlight:
- Veg and Fruits,
- and Spices.
Here are my favorites.
Anti-inflammatory Winter Vegetables and Fruits
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Even though leafy greens start their appearance in the summer, winter leafy greens follow with even more flavor since many greens are significantly less bitter during cold weather. This means their warm, earthy flavors really shine during the winter.
Greens like kale, collard greens, and swiss chard are packed full of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as folate, other minerals, and antioxidants. And they’re versatile enough that many can be eaten raw (don’t knock a winter salad!), cooked, as a stand-alone side, or even as a casserole or soup component.
Vegetables in the cruciferous family include Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage, and are chock full of vitamins like folate, K, C, and A, as well as phytonutrient compounds that lower inflammation. And they also have the benefit of less bitterness during colder weather, like the leafy greens of winter.
What’s great about cauliflower is that in addition to its vitamins, fiber, and phytonutrients, it’s very low in carbohydrates. This makes it an amazing substitution for anything from rice to pizza dough to mashed potatoes.
Cabbage’s brilliant colors are due to its anthocyanins which help pull down inflammation and are super antioxidants. Not only is it a great way to have a winter version of tacos with slaw, but it goes spectacularly raw in salads or cooked in soups or casseroles. If you’re not sure which color to choose, just know that purple cabbage’s vitamin A content is eleven times higher than green cabbage.
Brussels sprouts are what we call ‘baby cabbage’ at our house. They’re full of fiber, vitamins C, K, and folate, and are super easy to cook. Simply sliced in half and roasted is how we usually cook them. But they can also be shredded and included in salads, soups, or casseroles as well.
Pumpkins provide an amazing source of Vitamin A (the color gives you that hint on beta carotene), balanced polyunsaturated fats, Vitamins C and E, and several other essential minerals.
They’re also packed with fiber and healthy carbs, and can be stored for a long period of time (in a dry pantry or frozen) without going bad.
One of the most warming foods during winter, mushrooms should top your list of required eating during the cold weather. Mushrooms are full of B vitamins, potassium, and the only vegetable that contains vitamin D (which is already in demand during winter months.)
Its nutrient-dense properties qualify it as a superfood with antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties that also happens to add that coveted ‘umami’ flavor to any culinary dish.
Beans are an amazing add-in for winter meals for several reasons. First, they’re bursting with fiber and resistant starches, and they’re full of antioxidants—both of which give them anti-inflammatory superpowers. Although their carb content is higher than other vegetables, they’re considered a ‘slow carb’, which means they absorb at a much slower rate. This helps prevent a blood sugar spike and gives healthy carbohydrate energy over a longer period.
Beans are also super hearty and perfect to add on as a side dish, or in soups, stews, or chilis.
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Although white potatoes are full of fiber, resistant starches, and essential minerals, studies have shown that their colored versions pack way more of a punch when it comes to inflammation and blood sugar levels.
Studies have shown that purple and yellow potatoes contain higher levels of antioxidants including phenols, anthocyanins, and carotenoids that lower inflammatory markers and improve blood sugar and insulin levels.
Purple potatoes were shown to have the greatest benefit, possibly due to the higher levels of polyphenols, which are indicated by the darker color.
What’s great about these is there’s no special preparation aside from how you would prepare regular white potatoes (except don’t fry them!). Baked, roasted, steamed, and added into soups is great. But I wonder how fun it would be to have purple mashed potatoes!
One of the most overlooked vegetables (in my opinion) is the beet. Beets are high in folate and manganese, but also contain betalains, which gives it the bright red color, and is associated with reduced cancer risk.
Not only can you eat the beet itself, but the greens are also a fantastic source of nutrition. Beets can be roasted, sauteed, pickled, or boiled; and the greens can be used in salads or saved for soup broths.
One of the most popular fruits during the holidays, cranberries owe their deep red color to their huge supply of antioxidants, including vitamin C. Their bioactive compounds have been shown to reduce risk factors of a multitude of chronic diseases, including lowering inflammatory markers.
Although cranberries are pretty tart, they can be cooked into a sauce (using zero-calorie natural sweeteners), added into baked breakfasts and snacks, or even blended into a vinaigrette. If you opt for dried cranberries, just make sure they’re unsweetened.
Probably the most well-known sources of vitamin C, citrus fruits are aplenty during winter. Vitamin C is an especially potent antioxidant that fights free radicals and inflammation. They also contain flavonoids and fiber, which also fight inflammation.
Citrus like lemons, limes, organges, and grapefruit are super versatile and can be used in anything from flavoring water and cut up in salads, to being used as a dressing, in a snack, or as dessert. They also do an amazing job complimenting flavors of meats while tenderizing as marinades, as well as pairing beautifully with herbs in dishes and cocktails!
Pears have always felt like the lesser-valued cousin of apples, but I’ve come love pears just as much. They’re packed full of fiber and are rich in antioxidants that reduce inflammation. The skin of pears contains quercetin, which is amazing for those with allergies, and it also reduces inflammation.
But they also can be much easier to slice, core, and eat as the skin can be much softer than an apple’s. This makes them super easy snacks (like this Winter Pear and Yogurt Bowl), and super yummy desserts.
These little jewels may be small in size, but they’re big on flavor and nutrition. Their antioxidants have been shown to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the gut, brain, and body.
Anti-Inflammatory herbs for winter
Herbs are one of the most overlooked nutrition powerhouses in the plant family. They pack so much punch for such a little plant. But they’re also SO EASY to add into any dish for extra flavor, including throwing fresh sprigs into salads.
Here are my favorite anti-inflammatory herbs for fall.
Although tarragon is more commonly used in French and English cooking, it’s a delicious herb that—like most—contain powerful flavonoids that fight inflammatory cytokines. It also contains B vitamins, folate, and vitamins A and C. As with most fresh herbs, it’s best to wait until a dish is almost completely finished cooking before adding it in for maximum flavor.
Rosemary is full of iron, calcium, and vitamin B-6, and is also native to the Mediterranean—fitting for an anti-inflammatory diet rooted in the Mediterranean diet. It’s been used for a wide range of ailments including digestion, muscle pain, improved circulation and memory, and a boost to the immune system.
Aside from its fragrant and mouthwatering culinary powers, studies have proven its anti inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and neuroprotective properties. This means that even though it can fight free radicals and harmful bacteria, it can also be used in mood disorders, enhanced learning, anxiety, and sleep disorders.
Sage not only adds delicious earthy notes to fall and winter dishes, but also can be used in teas and as an essential oil. Sage is high in Vitamin K and vital minerals, but also contains antioxidants.
What’s so amazing about sage is that it’s been shown to relieve or cure illnesses like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression, dementia, and lupus. But it’s also been used for centuries in traditional medicine for inflammation, bacterial, and viral infections, which makes it high on the list for cold and flu season.
Thyme (another herb native to the Mediterranean) can be used as a treatment for anything from acne to GI disturbances to menstrual cramps (and a ton of stuff in between!) But it’s actually an extremely versatile culinary addition. It has an earthy flavor but can waver back and forth between savory or sweet dishes like stocks and stews, roasted vegetables, teas, and desserts.
Anti-Inflammatory winter spices
Although spices can generally be used year-round, the warmth of the following five are perfect for the freezing weather.
Being a staple ingredient in most kitchens, black pepper can blend into the background and largely be overlooked. However, studies on the compound piperine in black pepper have shown that it can increase absorption of curcumin (the compound in turmeric) by up to 2,000%!
It’s also been shown to increase absorption of other key minerals and antioxidants, making it an absolute must in literally any savory dish you cook from now on.
This alkaloid compound gives a distinct bite flavor and has been shown to reduce insulin resistance as well as exhibit anti-inflammatory effects.
Ginger has been touted to help anything from boosting the immune system, lowering blood sugar, and easing inflammation. Probably it’s most famous claims to fame include taming the GI tract and pulling down inflammation. These benefits are made possible due to the over 400 compounds that ginger contains.
Ginger has a fresh, zingy flavor, and although the dried version (teas and spice shakers) have a milder flavor than fresh, they can still have nearly the same health benefits. It’s best to use fresh, and ginger root can be cut up and put in the fridge or frozen to last even longer.
Turmeric is used traditionally in Asian dishes, but has been widely recognized the last few years because of its media coverage as an amazingly effective nutritional supplement. Turmeric contains curcumin, which is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound.
Studies have shown that the best way to harness the power of turmeric is to combine it with black pepper, which increases its bioavailability up to 2,000%.
There can be a lot of confusion over the type of cinnamon that’s best to use. Ceylon (known as ‘true’ cinnamon) and cassia (what you buy in the grocery store) are equally delicious and contain a compound called cinnamaldehyde that’s thought to be responsible for its health and metabolism benefits.
Cinnamon has been shown to contain more antioxidant activity than any other in a study against 26 other spices, is a potent anti-inflammatory, and has been shown to reduce insulin resistance (among other benefits).
Pumpkin pie spice
Honestly my favorite spice for winter is a combination of several spices: Pumpkin pie spice. This mixture obviously enhances pumpkin flavor, but can be used in a variety of recipes in fall and winter (usually around the holidays.)
The components of pumpkin pie spice include cinnamon and ginger, which we already covered. The other ingredients are nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and black pepper.
What’s so great about the blend in pumpkin pie spice is that all the ingredients have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds just like the other spices mentioned.
So as long as you use healthy sweeteners and anti-inflammatory ingredients for whatever pumpkin spice recipe you’re making, you essentially have a superfood recipe with powerhouse ingredients for winter!
Let me know in the comments: What’s YOUR favorite anti-inflammatory winter food or recipe?
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