By Carol Peng, registered dietitian at CHOC
Winter weight gain is a common problem for many Americans during festive holidays. Instead of trying to lose the extra pounds later in the New Year, it’s a good idea to be mindful now about food choices and consider healthy alternatives in place of some sweets and desserts. Buying fresh produce when it’s in season is an easy and cost-effective way to give your family the nutrients they need.
Consider introducing one of these seasonal fruits or vegetables in to your family’s menu:
Originating from Asia, persimmons are known for their glossy surfaces and deliciously brightly orange and red colors. They are an excellent source of vitamin A (for good vision), vitamin C (to boost the immune system) and fiber (to aid the digestive system). Buy firmer persimmons and allow them to ripen at room temperature. You may peel the skin before enjoying them as snacks or flavorful additions to salads. Be sure to eat the ripe fruit as soon as possible because overripe persimmons quickly turn to a mushy texture. Fuyu persimmons look similar to flattened tomatoes and have a crispier texture. Hachiyas persimmons are acorn-shaped and taste softer and juicer.
Pummelos are the largest members in size of the citrus family. With pale green or yellow skin and thick yet soft white rind, these fruits contain juicy pulps that vary from pale yellow to pink or red. Choose firm and heavy pummelos. They can be refrigerated for up to one week. Pummelos taste like their cousin grapefruits, but sweeter and milder, and they are an excellent source of vitamin C, folate (to help prevent birth defects) and fiber.
Sweet Potato or Yam
Many varieties of sweet potatoes are homegrown in the US. The skin color can range from white to yellow, red, purple, or brown, with the inside ranging in color from white to yellow and orange. The ones with soft orange texture inside are often labeled as yams. However, yams are mainly grown in West Africa and Asia, soo unless you are shopping at an international market, you are most likely buying sweet potatoes. They can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 3-5 weeks. They are fat free, cholesterol free and are good source of fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C and potassium (which is good for heart health and enhancing muscle strength).
The most common varieties of winter squash include acorn squash, butternut squash, hubbard squash, spaghetti squash, turban squash, and pumpkin. They come in different shapes, sizes and colors, but all have a hard, thick shell and seeds. The deep yellow to orange flesh is firmer compared to summer squash, therefore requires longer cooking time. Choose winter squash that are heavy for their size. There are many healthy cooking methods to prepare winter squash such as baking, steaming, simmered, or mashed. They can be kept in a cool dark place for a month. They have high levels of vitamin A, C, niacin (important for heart health) and fiber.
Try this recipe as a way to incorporate seasonal squash into your family’s dinner rotation:
Spicy Spaghetti Squash with Black Beans (for 4 servings)
- 1 medium spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped red onion
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
- 1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 cup cooked black beans
- 1/2 cup sweet corn, frozen or fresh
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Arrange squash in a large baking dish, cut-sides down. Pour 1/2 cup water into the dish and bake until just tender, 30 to 35 minutes. Rake with a fork to remove flesh in strands, leaving the shell intact for stuffing.
For the filling, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, jalapeño and bell pepper and cook for 2 minutes or until soft. Add beans, corn and chili powder; cook, stirring frequently, 1 minute longer. Add cooked squash, cilantro, lime juice and salt, cook 1 minute until heated through.
Fill squash halves with filling, mounding mixture in the center.
Per serving: 160 calories (30 from fat), 3.5g total fat, 0.5g saturated fat, 330mg sodium, 29g carbohydrates, (7 g dietary fiber, 5g sugar), 6g protein
Recipe source: Whole Foods Market