Foods eaten at the peak of their season not only offer the best flavor but they overflow with nutrients. Scientists continually discover new components in these fresh foods that benefit our health.
Always considered a nutritious food, apples have more recently made health news due to quercetin. This antioxidant not only helps to prevent cellular damage, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties. Quercetin prevents the release of histamines, leading researchers to believe it could reduce symptoms of allergies.
Tip: Keep the skin on. According to the University of Illinois Extension, almost half of the vitamin C in an apple is located just under the skin. The skin also contains nutritious fiber.
Move over carrots, pumpkins promote healthy vision too. Pumpkin contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which are associated with preventing cataracts and reducing the risk of macular degeneration. Pumpkin is also rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber.
Tip: Orange-flesh winter squash shares these health benefits. Look for Cinderella pumpkins, Kabocha, Cushaw, Butternut squash, and Delicata squash.
Crunchy purple cabbage contains sinigrin, which is converted to an isothiocyanate compound linked to cancer prevention. The purple variety has a slight advantage over green cabbage due to anthocyanin pigments. These polyphenols act as antioxidants to protect against chronic disease. Cabbage is also packed with vitamin C, and because cabbage is often eaten raw in salads and slaws, the vitamin C isn’t destroyed during cooking.
Tip: Top tacos with shredded purple cabbage instead of iceberg lettuce to boost nutrients, flavor, and texture.
Like garlic and onions, leeks are part of the allium family, but they get much less attention for their nutrient content. Leeks contain the flavonoid kaempferol, which has been shown to prevent damage to the lining of blood vessels, making leeks beneficial for cardiovascular health. Leeks also provide folate. Folate has been found to balance homocysteine levels to protect against cardiovascular disease.
Tip: The whole leek is edible, but the highest concentration of nutrients is found in the lower leaf and bulb.
Tart, red cranberries contain polyphenols with anti-bacterial properties, which reduce the risk of urinary tract infections. Whole cranberries also have anti-cancer properties and provide antioxidants. This berry promotes a healthy cardiovascular system and digestive tract by reducing disease-related inflammation.
Tip: Chop fresh cranberries in a food processor, and add them to salads and cereals for tart flavor and extra crunch.