Warming Foods for Winter

Note: This article is not meant as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult with your medical practitioner before using any type of remedy, herbal or otherwise.

By Robert Luby, MD

Advances in agriculture, transportation, and the food industry have made it possible for Vermonters to consume nearly any food from any part of the world year-round. But is this optimal for our health? While conventional western nutritional sciences concern themselves primarily with nutrient quantities and ratios, the principles of non-western medical paradigms, most notably Chinese medicine, place a high priority on eating optimally for the season.

Conventional nutritional theory divides foods into groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, meats, dairy, and so on. The relative merits of these foods are considered without regard to the season of the year. In traditional Chinese medicine, there is an additional classification of foods into warming, cooling, and neutral foods. Given the robust nature of the New England winter, Vermonters would do well to consider prioritizing the selection of warming foods for the winter.

There is an intriguing association between warming foods and their original functions for the plant from which they were derived. In general, many “warming” foods serve as the storage sites for the plant’s nutrients. For example, many “seeds”, in the broad sense, are considered warming, and therefore are excellent choices for winter consumption. This includes what we usually consider to be seeds such as sesame, sunflower, and caraway. But it also includes the “seeds” of certain legumes such as black beans and lentils. Finally, the seeds of many trees serve as excellent warming foods for winter, including walnuts, pine nuts, and chestnuts.

Another significant site of nutrient storage for many plants is the root. Accordingly, many roots are excellent choices as warming winter foods. Some of the best roots in this category are carrots, potatoes, beets, parsnips, and daikon. Most types of squash, while not roots, are also good warming foods.

Although most fruits and greens are typically associated with summer eating, there are some with winter-friendly warming qualities. The fruits in this category include cherries, dates, coconut, guava, nectarines, peaches, and raspberries.  Mustard greens, cabbage, and kale are the best examples of winter greens. .

Finally, winter cooking does not have to be bland, and there are many spices, herbs, and condiments with excellent warming qualities. The best choices to add zip to your winter dishes are anise, basil, cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, ginger, nutmeg, pepper (black and hot varieties), rosemary, mint, garlic, onion, leek, scallion, and vinegar.

City Market offers a variety of recipes online. Look for the warming ingredients mentioned above and find a new favorite for your household!