By Fran Berkoff, registered dietitian
This article originally appeared in the winter 2021 issue of Renaissance Magazine
As Old Man Winter settles in, chances are you’re looking for foods to help keep colds and flu at bay. Here are five packed with nutritional benefits we often overlook.
In my practice, people often gasp when I suggest a banana for a healthy snack. I don’t know how they got such a bad reputation, because a medium banana is rich in potassium (important for blood pressure control) and fibre (3 grams) and only contains 105 calories (not much more than an apple or a pear). In addition, bananas are low on the glycemic index scale, meaning they cause your blood sugar to rise gradually, not quickly, after you eat them. And they’re portable — just peel and eat!
It’s a myth that fresh is healthier than frozen. Vegetables harvested at their peak of goodness and frozen quickly retain most of their nutritional content, making them generally more nourishing than their fresh, out-of-season counterparts, which may have travelled thousands of miles before reaching grocery shelves. Frozen are also less expensive and create minimal waste, since you can use only what you need. When buying, choose produce with no added sugar, fat or salt.
It’s been a breakfast staple forever, but its nutritional benefits are seldom recognized. A bowl of this whole-grain cereal is rich in soluble fibre, which helps lower cholesterol and keeps you feeling satisfied throughout the morning. You can microwave a bowl in less than two minutes. My favourites are steel-cut or large-flake rolled oats. Boost the good-for-you quotient by topping your oatmeal with dried fruit or a spoonful of pumpkin, hemp or flax seeds. Or banana! If you prefer the convenience of instant oatmeal, choose regular unflavoured.
This underrated cruciferous vegetable is one of the best buys in the winter produce section. Cabbage is a rich source of vitamins C and K, folate and fibre, and it contains important disease-fighting phytochemicals. And there’s more: A whole 1-cup (250 millilitre) measure of shredded raw cabbage weighs in at a mere 23 calories, while the same amount of cooked contains only 33 calories. I love cabbage raw or cooked and add it liberally to salads, soups and stir-fries.
We all know fish is a healthy choice, and most of us think first of salmon and tuna. It may surprise you to know that sardines are their equal when it comes to nutrients. They’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamin B12, calcium (if you eat the bones) and vitamin D. Plus, they’re aordable. Stock your pantry and they’ll be ready to eat right out of the tin — no prep needed. My fave ways to enjoy them are in sandwiches, pasta sauces and on pizzas, of course.
Finally, don’t dismiss garnishes. Believe it or not, parsley is rich in antioxidants, potassium, iron, magnesium and vitamins C and K. Sprinkle generously!