The Science Behind Your Favorite Winter Foods

Cold weather fare is nourishing in more ways than one.

by Kaitlyn Wylde
Eating in brussels sprouts in winter is nourishing.
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Pumpkin isn’t on the menu for Thanksgiving because it's leftover from Halloween. Your favorite winter foods are filled with nutrients that are most effective at nourishing you when they’re in-season. There's a scientific reason you crave certain foods at specific times of year.

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Traditionally, changing seasons meant a change in the foods our ancestors had access to, says Nikki Ostrower, an integrative nutritionist and founder of NAO Wellness. "We still tend to eat the foods traditionally consumed during the season."

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Winter Squash

Butternut, acorn, spaghetti, and pumpkin are loaded with vitamins A, C, and B6. Ostrower says you crave them in flu and cold season because they are high in a compound called carotenoids, which have been linked to increased immune support.

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Sweet Potato

Nutritionist Christen Cupples Cooper, R.D.N., tells Bustle that this root veggie is packed with vitamin A, protein, iron and calcium, and fiber. The combination of nutrients supports the body's immune defense, which is particularly helpful during the winter months.

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Filled with potassium, iron, manganese, magnesium, vitamin B6, and folate, they're great for brain function, digestion, and circulation — all things that can slow down in the winter. Cooper adds that studies suggest they also reduce inflammation.

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Brussels Sprouts

Ostrower says this super veggie contains fiber, protein and Vitamins A and C. A benefit of a hearty serving (particularly if roasted), is that it's warming, fills you up, and keeps your blood sugar regulated so that your energy levels are steady through the day.

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"Kale and cabbage freeze at a lower point and are more nutritionally hardy in the winter than other greens," Ostrower says. Swiss chard, mustard greens, and turnip greens also contain vitamin A, calcium and magnesium, supporting eye and bone health.

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"Oatmeal has grounding and warming effects on the body," Ostrower says. Whole oats are high in fiber, protein and fat, so they help to keep the body energized, insulated, and balanced.

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If your favorite winter food isn't listed, that doesn't mean it's not valuable. An apple cider doughnut might not help fight a cold, but it might bring you joy, via feel-good brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin — and that's just as crucial as a nutrient-dense veggie roast.

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