Getting To The Root Of Winter Superfoods

30th November 2012

At this time of year, it can be tough to be certain what’s in season, says Mary Linehan. Yes, the Autumn/Winter produce is piled high on the supermarket shelves, but it’s usually surrounded by out-of-season summer stuff that’s bizarrely available every month.

Summer veggies always seem that much more colourful and appealing. Since colour is where most of the goodness is, it’s easier to be persuaded that the poster child of modern nutrition and anti-aging beauty – the superfood – is in abundance during sunny days only. Perhaps it’s also to do with the fact that winter vegetables are more earthy; muddy, in fact. What you see is that much harder to translate into a super functionality.

According to Ayurvedic Practitioner Sebastian Pole, founder of Pukka Herbs, “Superfoods have earned their special status because of the concentrated amounts of health-enhancing phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals they contain. They usually offer some form of antioxidant and immune protection, resulting in better health…” And more youthful looks in the seasons to come.

But are superfoods seasonal? There don’t seem to be too many studies that provide concrete evidence either to confirm or deny the nutritional impact of seasonal eating. And some evidence is conflicting; it doesn’t, for example, take into account the nutritional content of the soil from which these so called superfoods take their own nutrition and whether it’s affected by the weather. However, it’s also true to say that it feels intrinsically right to be eating something that is available just as the body needs it. reports a 1997 study by the Dept of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food which found that milk had a higher iodine content in winter, and beta carotene in summer. This was attributed to the cow’s diets – in summer they were outside grazing and in the winter they tended to have lots of dry foods.

As for non-seasonal eating, Nutritional Physiologist Rick Hay observes, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should, despite the mod cons of farming that make foods available year round. Our ancestors ate seasonally. They could only eat what was to hand, so it makes perfect sense to eat this way now. We know that we can only grow delicious fruits and veggies if the soil and climate are conducive – why should we be any different when we eat them?”

So what fab fruits and vegetables have super status in winter?

One is the humble mushroom, newly extracted from the dark, dank surroundings in which it grows, and elevated to superfood stardom. Dr Andrew Weill, director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, is a self-confessed mushroom aficionado. He recommends them to boost immunity. Such is their antioxidant value that he devised the Dr Andrew Weil for Origins™ Mega-Mushroom range, specially formulated for hypersensitive skin types. These new products work to combat irritation, and contain his proprietary blend of the ‘Signature Six’ ingredients (Hypsizygus ulmarius, Cordyceps and Reishi Mushrooms, Ginger, Turmeric and Holy Basil) enhanced with key ingredient Lily Bulb, all to help defend skin against ‘silent skin agers’.

Try: Mega-Mushroom Skin Relief Advanced Face Serum (from £44 for 30ml) which has a US patent and three others pending. Boosting hydration, it instantly calms irritated skin, reduces redness and sensitivity and restores clarity and radiance even on the most sensitive, irritated skin; signs of aging are often more pronounced on this skintype.

The bright red, earthy powerhouse that is beetroot even has its own website ( Beets boost stamina, help muscles work more efficiently, and are good for fatigue as well as helopful in balancing sugar levels. Beetroot has a low GL (Glycaemic Load) of only 2.9, so although comprising 10% sugar, it’s a very slow release. No wonder Paralympic Gold Medallist David Weir reportedly drinks beetroot juice by the gallon. And it has a powerful antioxidant that reduces the risk of heart disease. It has protein, carbs, fibre, vitamins A, B6, C, folic acid as well as trace minerals potassium, magnesium and iron. You don’t have to be a nutritionist to work out that is virtually a complete food.

Try: Beetroot Soup, aka Borsch, as a good way of getting a fix of this great ingredient.

Green Tea is another antioxidant powerhouse, and should be drunk throughout the day to keep the body hydrated, ease digestion and detoxify. As Pukka’s Sebastian Pole contests, “Encouraging good digestion promotes the body’s absorption of vital nutrients to nourish our bones and muscles whilst naturally clearing waste products. It is also beneficial to rejuvenate and hydrate your body during the cold winter weather by sipping warming tea”.

There have been numerous studies throughout the past ten years or so on green tea and the consensus is that as well as having anti-carcinogenic properties, it reduces incidences of heart disease and can help with dementia. It also helps burn fat: witness supermodel Sophie Dahl’s dramatic weight loss some years ago, which she put down to copious amounts of the stuff. What makes green tea so great? The polyphenols, or natural antioxidants. Green tea is rich in the compound Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and although it comes from the same plant as black tea, its leaves are steamed rather than fermented, which prevents the EGCG from oxidising. Green tea is also useful in beauty products for its antioxidants and also its antibacterial properties, so if the thought of drinking all that tea is not quite what the doctor ordered, there are other ways of harnessing its powers.

Try: Radical Skincare Anti-Aging Restorative Moisture (£100) with green tea, grape seed and coffee. It’s crammed with polyphenols and flavonoids that are anti-aging, anti-inflammatory and help maintain skin barrier function in even the most demanding skins.

Or for the body: Espa Regenerating Moisture Complex (£55). A rich, anti-aging deeply moisturising cream that boosts collagen production and elasticity. Has green tea and sea amber, willow bark and nourishing camellia and macadamia nut oil to rehydrate stressed, mature skins.

It’s worth looking at supplementation too, to aid a strong immune system, less stressed skin – and perhaps a supermodel body… New Futrients ImmuLITE (£24.99) contains caffeine-free green tea extract Teavigo®, green tea in its purest form and rich in EGCG, plus Vitamin A, selected B vitamins, Vitamin C, plus the on-trend vitamin D.

I raise my cup of green tea – here’s to a super duper winter for us all…

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