We are very lucky with the range of fruits and vegetables available to us all year round. From the major supermarkets to our corner shop grocers, they all stock a wide variety of produce meaning we can cook whatever, whenever. But fruits and vegetables do still have a ‘better time’ to eat them which means you will also get more goodness from them.
Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her top tips on what’s ‘hot’ right now in the world of fruits and vegetables!
We hear the phrase ‘Eat with the Seasons’ so often but what does it actually mean? There are many good reasons for eating fruits and vegetables at their rightful time of the year; however, one of the best reasons is that nature intended us to eat them at a specific time, therefore they are more nutrient dense. Plus, they should be more economical to buy in the shops!
So here are my top 5 in-season vegetables that you could be including in your weekly shop.
These are not actually from Jerusalem; the name is derived from the Italian word ‘girasole’ meaning sunflower as they are, in fact, a variety of sunflower! Jerusalem artichokes are able to claim many of the digestive and nutritional benefits of the artichoke family. They help to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut which have many health benefits, particularly for the immune system and in keeping everything running smoothly through the digestive tract.
If your beneficial bacteria is out of balance (and many peoples are if they are not taking probiotics) then you may find eating Jerusalem artichokes causes some flatulence! But it’s worth persevering, as the health benefits of eating them are so great – they are a great source of fibre and iron. What’s more they taste absolutely delicious when roasted. To prepare, lightly scrape the skins and then put them in the oven and roast with a little olive oil.
As it is clear to see from their shape, parsnips are part of the carrot family – they look almost identical apart from their creamy white colour. They provide good sources of soluble and insoluble fibre, both of which are needed for good digestion and to help reduce blood cholesterol levels: eating a high fibre diet is one of the best ways of reducing cholesterol levels as it can be naturally excreted from the body.
Additionally, parsnips provide a good nutrient profile including Vitamin C, a great antioxidant, and the B Vitamins, needed for great energy production. A great winter vegetable, parsnips make a delicious winter stew, a perfect roasted vegetable or an excellent soup ingredient: Spicy Parsnip Soup with added cumin really works well!
Beetroot often appears on the superfood list, and for very good reason, plus it has a rich, sweet flavour which lends itself to either sweet or savoury dishes: have you ever tried a beetroot brownie?!
As with any dark-coloured fruit or vegetable, the nutrient content is really high; beetroot helps to stimulate the body’s natural antioxidant enzymes, making it a great anti-ageing defence against those dreaded free radicals. Additionally, it’s a great source of natural iron, together with Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Folic Acid.
Perhaps one of beetroot’s biggest claims to fame is its ability to help detoxify the liver, hence it’s often used in vegetable juices. More recently, research and anecdotal evidence from athletes has confirmed that beetroot juice can really aid sporting performance*; this may in part be due to the fact that it is high in iron – crucial in the production of energy.
Beetroot is at its best when included raw in juices, as part of a colourful salad and it works really well with feta cheese.
Although we’re used to seeing bananas all-year round, they tend to be at their best from the Caribbean at this time of year.
They are such an easy fruit to accommodate into the diet as they are so portable, although they are also great in smoothies! Bananas are extremely nutritious, providing potassium, which is great for the heart, plus B Vitamins to help with energy production. However, they do contain fairly high sugar levels, which provides a quick energy burst, but you may slump afterwards. So try to eat some protein at the same time to help keep the blood sugar levels in balance – why not eat a few almonds or Brazil nuts for example?
Bananas are also delicious baked in the oven in some foil with a little butter and muscovado sugar (very decadent!) or why not make banana bread – always a great lunch box staple.
Sweet potatoes are at their best from October through to March and are grown in the tropical Americas, hence sweet potato fries are often found on the menus when you visit the States.
Whilst they are called ‘potatoes’ they have a different (and much better) nutritional profile. They contain very high levels of Vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant and one that is also essential for good vision. They also contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals and they are high in fibre.
Sweet potatoes are also beneficial in helping balance blood sugar levels. Ordinary potatoes when cooked can become very starchy, which means sugar release into the body is rapid, which is not ideal – particularly for diabetics. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, seem to encourage the release of a protein hormone called adiponectin which helps to modulate insulin metabolism, which means it helps to balance blood sugar levels better.
Sweet potatoes are so versatile: think about swapping your traditional jacket potato for a sweet potato – they can be cooked in exactly the same way. Equally, they provide much healthier chips, taste great mashed with some black pepper and a little butter or added into vegetable curries. Enjoy!
So enjoy seasonal fruits and vegetables and include them in your diet as much as possible at the right time of year.
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*Effect of beetroot juice supplementation on aerobic response during swimming.
Panni M et al. Nutrients 2014 Jan 29; 6(2): 605-15