Seasonal Winter Produce to Add to your Cancer Protective Diet

Written by Lori Bumbaco, MS, RDN, CSO, LDN, Oncology Dietitian

Many people find that it is relatively easy to enjoy more fruit and vegetables during the warmer months. The warmer weather invites many options for delicious, local fruit and vegetables to our plates. The high level of nutrients and water in fruit and vegetables also provides hydration during warm weather. However, even during the cold winter months, we require just as much fluid to support optimal hydration. Fruit and vegetables can help to hydrate us, but more importantly provide a hefty dose of nutrients to support our immune system and lift our energy levels and mood. 

Let’s begin the seasonal produce journey with citrus fruits. Lemons, limes, clementines, oranges, tangerines, and the special Sumo citrus are all delicious examples of this cancer protective fruit. All citrus fruits are packed with vitamin C and fiber. As you may know, vitamin C is essential for proper immune function. Fiber is credited with aiding in our blood sugar control, bowel regularity, and weight management. Did you know that citrus fruits also contain calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium to support our skeletal and muscular function? Squeezing some lemon or lime juice on top of a flaky fish is one simple way to infuse extra nutrients in your meal. Snacking on citrus fruit is another simple way to add a refreshing option to your day. 

Next, let’s explore the seasonal delight with root vegetables. Root vegetables include choices like sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, and radishes. They all over fiber and many contain vitamin A as well as potassium. You might be wondering about whether the starches in root vegetables are healthy, but they each contain complex carbohydrates to fuel our bodies including brain health. Root vegetables have a long shelf life when stored in dry, cool places. They are versatile in the kitchen because they can be baked, roasted, sauteed, or pureed to be added to soups, stews, a homemade casserole, or even baked goods! 

The next group of seasonal produce options is considered among nutrition experts to be superstars!  You might have guessed it; the family of cruciferous vegetables are among the best choices for a cancer protective diet. Some of the family members include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, and arugula. They have beneficial phytochemicals that are thought to reduce the risk for many chronic diseases. Eating these vegetables has been shown to lower levels of inflammation. Cruciferous vegetables contain B vitamins, which are necessary to support our metabolism. This time of year is as good a time as any to eat foods that can maximize our metabolism! Cruciferous vegetables are delicious when roasted, eaten raw, or enjoyed in the trendy way with “riced” versions added to pizza crust or mashed potatoes.   

The last stop on the seasonal produce tour takes us to hearty, leafy greens. Dark leafy green vegetables include choices like Romaine lettuce, kale, and collard greens. They are all rich in vitamins C and K, as well as antioxidants like beta carotene. Antioxidants are shown to remove free radicals from the body and protect us from chronic disease. Darker colors generally mean more nutrients, so experts advise that we get creative with colors and textures. Simple ways to add green leafy vegetables are to add romaine to a sandwich, collards to a soup, or kale on top of a homemade pizza.