A winter staple that can last in your pantry for weeks, the butternut squash is versatile, sweet and tasty, and full of vitamins. Rich in beta carotene, which can prevent vision problems and skin disorders as well as increase immunity, and vitamin C, known to boost immunity, the hearty-fleshed fruit (yes, technically, squash is a fruit) is a great fit to help keep colds and flu at bay during the winter season.
"[Butternut squash] is also high in potassium (which has been proven to lower blood pressure), the all-important fiber, and folate (excellent for pregnant women as it helps prevent certain birth defects)," explains Toronto nutritionist Julie Mancuso, founder of JM Nutrition. Squash has also been known to have super anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and has been used for hundreds of years as a way to treat inflammation issues in the body.
How to prep butternut squash: Butternut and other winter squash are easy to prepare. Peel, cube and bring to a boil with spices, stock and aromatics, and puree to make a delicious, creamy soup. You can also roast cubes in the oven with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper as a healthier substitute for roasted white potatoes.
Replace your usual white potato with the sweet variety for a boost in vitamins, fiber and flavor. Sweet potatoes are made up of complex carbohydrates, which means they provide stable and long lasting energy. The sweet spuds are also high in beta carotene, vitamin C and B6 (a natural diuretic). "Although one may assume that 'sweet' potato may not be acceptable for diabetics, it actually helps stabilize blood sugar levels," explains Mancuso.
How to prepare sweet potatoes: Anything you can do with a regular white potato, you can do with a sweet potato. Bake them with the skin, or mash them for a yummy change from mashed white potatoes. "Sweet potato fries baked in the oven with olive oil and spices are a delicious alternative to French fries," adds the nutrition expert.
All varieties of beans are a healthy winter staple and they are a fantastic protein-dense alternative to meat. Beans are popular in winter foods, like soups, stews and casseroles, which are ideal meals on cold winter days, providing delicious warmth and comfort. High in heart-healthy fiber, B vitamins, bone-strengthening calcium, and potassium, which keeps blood pressure in check, beans are a powerhouse of nutrients. Their combination of complex carbohydrates and protein keep you full longer and can even aid in weight loss since you may ultimately eat less.
How to prep beans: You can buy beans dried or canned. Dried beans typically require an overnight soak and then a simmer before they are ready to eat. Canned beans come already cooked, so a drain and rinse is all you need before adding them to soups, salads and more. "Chili is a hearty meal rich in vegetables and beans," says Mancuso. "And a bean salad tossed with fresh herbs and olive oil is a great way to get your daily fiber intake." Bean dip such as hummus (chick pea dip) is another great option that can be spread on crackers or used to spice up your raw veggies.
Oats are a healthy, versatile grain. They can fill you up, add crunch, thicken, and provide you with many essential nutrients. Oats main claim to fame is their high fiber content, which keeps you full longer, lowers LDL "bad" cholesterol and can help with irritable bowel syndrome. "Oats also stabilize blood sugar level so they are a great choice for diabetics," says Mancuso. "They are great for weight loss as they are a filling complex carbohydrate."
How to prep oatmeal: "Hot oatmeal for breakfast is always a great start to the day," suggests Mancuso. Add fresh or frozen berries (rich in antioxidants), nuts (high in fiber protein and good fats) and cinnamon to sweeten, to get your day started on a healthy note. Homemade oatmeal muffins are also a great choice for those who don't enjoy cooked oats; sweeten with berries or a few semi-sweet chocolate chips.
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