Plus, the tastiest ways to prepare them

Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD
October 15, 2018

I’ve been watching the inventory of brightly-colored summer produce slowly dwindle at my local farmer’s market, and while I’m always a little sad to see the last of the blueberries and tomatoes go, the cooler temps don’t mean sacrificing flavor or health benefits. It’s just means choosing from a new crop of produce!  Here are six top fall and winter superfoods to take advantage of.

Leeks

Milder than onions, leeks tend to get overlooked, but make great fall additions to stocks, soups, and stews.

Leeks are part of the allium family (along with onions, shallots, garlic and chives), a group of plants known for sulfur compounds that give them unique, pungent flavors (but also health perks!) In fact, research suggests that consuming foods like leeks in the allium family with those sulfur compounds may decrease risk for cancer—particularly digestive and prostate—and heart disease.

How to use leeks: Use leeks as a substitute for onions in recipes. They can even be caramelized! A few recipes to try: Caramelized Leek and Spinach Dip, Braised Chicken with Honey-Lemon Leeks, and Simple Leek Frittata.

Pears

The colder months are when pears are at their peak of sweetness, making them a nutrient-dense fruit choice particularly when it comes to fiber (one medium has approx. 6 grams!), as well an antioxidants. Pears also are an ideal fruit choice for those monitoring blood sugar, since they’re considered a low-glycemic food. Foods with a low-glycemic index value have less effect on blood glucose compared to food with higher values.

What to know about pears: Store pears at room temperature until ripe; then refrigerate until ready to eat to slow the ripening process. Eat whole, or slice and serve with almond butter, top a piece of toast, or chop and add to salads, pilafs or cooked grains, or hot oatmeal. Two cold-weather recipe favorites for pears are Muffin-Tin Pumpkin and Pear Stratas and Bacon-Roasted Pears.

Brussels Sprouts

Once the symbol for veggies we loved to hate, Brussels sprouts have had a comeback thanks to fresh ideas for how to cook and season them. And when done right, they’re pretty dang tasty—a good thing since these baby cabbages are full of antioxidants like Vitamin C and beta-carotene, potassium, folate, fiber, and Vitamin K, as well as glucosinolate, a phytochemical associated with protecting cells from free radicals to reduce cancer risk.

How to cook Brussels sprouts so they're tasty, not sad: Roasting to caramelize their natural sugars is one of the easiest and most flavorful ways to prepare Brussels sprouts, but they can also be eaten raw when shaved and used like you might other cabbages or hearty greens. Two good recipes for sprout newbies are Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Garlic and Shallots and Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad. Also, good news is that Brussels sprouts will keep for several weeks if stored in the coldest part of the fridge.

Winter Squash

Though technically gourds, pumpkin, acorn, spaghetti, delicata and butternut squash are all considered types of winter squash and are good sources of Vitamins A, C and K. Their bright yellow-orange hues come from a ground of phytochemicals knowns as carotenoids which includes the antioxidant beta-carotene. These compounds play key roles in maintaining eye health, reducing inflammation, and reducing cancer risk. The sweet flavor of most winter squash also means they’re an ideal lower-carb substitute for sweet potatoes.

How to use winter squash: Roasting with fresh herbs or spices (as in Roasted Butternut with Sage and Thyme) is a super-simple method to get lots of flavor. Winter squash serve as great bases for heartier main dishes and comfort foods, too, like in these two recipes: Acorn Squash with Wild Rice Stuffing and Spaghetti Squash Lasagna with Spinach.

Pink Grapefruit

All citrus fruits provide hefty doses of Vitamin C, making them good options to regularly eat in winter months to support immune functioning. But grapefruit may offer additional benefits when it comes to weight loss and insulin resistance. When a group of obese individuals was given a specific fruit or fruit juice daily for 12 weeks, those who received fresh grapefruit daily lost the most weight and had significant improvements in insulin sensitivity.

How to use grapefruit: Keep it simple by eating a fresh half, sprinkling with a touch of cinnamon and brown sugar and then broiling, or squeezing juice to use in a marinade or cocktail. You can also peel and section to add to salads like this Grapefruit, Walnut and Feta Salad.

Cranberries

Don’t save these berries just for holidays! Research suggests cranberries are potent sources of antioxidants and may offer antimicrobial benefits. Cranberries contain several types of phytochemicals, one of which appears to interfere with bacteria forming infections in the urinary tract, a perk that comes from juice or the whole berry. Additional plant compounds in cranberries appear to improve cholesterol numbers to reduce risk of heart disease.

How to cook with cranberries: Try working cranberries into a slightly sweet snack or baked good like Cranberry-Pistachio Energy Bars to balance their natural tartness. And when holidays do roll around, try making your own fresh cranberry sauce using a recipe like Classic Cranberry Sauce.