The 10 Healthiest Winter Vegetables
Written by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD — Updated on November 29, 2017
Eating in season is a breeze in the spring and summer, but it can prove to be challenging when cold weather sets in.
However, some vegetables can survive the cold, even under a blanket of snow. These are known as winter vegetables, due to their ability to withstand cold, harsh weather.
These cold-hardy varieties can withstand frosty temperatures due to the higher amount of sugar that they contain (1).
The sugar found in the water of winter vegetables causes them to freeze at a lower point, which allows them to survive in cold weather.
Additionally, this process results in cold-hardy vegetables tasting sweeter in the cooler months, making winter the optimal time for harvest (2).
This article takes a look at 10 of the healthiest winter vegetables and why you should include them in your diet.
This leafy green is not only one of the healthiest vegetables, but it also happens to thrive in cooler weather.
It is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, which includes cold-tolerant plants like Brussels sprouts, cabbage and turnips.
Although kale can be harvested year-round, it prefers colder weather and can even withstand snowy conditions (3).
Kale is also an exceptionally nutritious and versatile green. It is packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and powerful plant compounds.
In fact, just one cup (67 grams) of kale contains the daily recommended intake for vitamins A, C and K. It is also rich in B vitamins, calcium, copper, manganese, potassium and magnesium (4).
Additionally, kale is loaded with flavonoid antioxidants like quercetin and kaempferol that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
Some studies suggest that a diet high in flavonoids may help reduce the risk of certain cancers like lung and esophageal cancer (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 7).
Summary Kale is a cold-hardy,
leafy green vegetable that contains an impressive amount of vitamins, minerals
- Brussels Sprouts
Like kale, Brussels sprouts are a member of the nutrient-rich cruciferous vegetable family.
The mini, cabbage-like heads of the Brussels sprout plant develop during the cold weather months. They can hold up in freezing temperatures, making them a must for seasonal winter dishes.
Though small, Brussels sprouts contain an impressive amount of nutrients.
They are an excellent source of vitamin K. One cup (156 grams) of cooked Brussels sprouts contains 137% of your daily recommended intake (8).
Vitamin K is critical for bone and heart health and is important for brain function (9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).
Brussels sprouts are also a great source of vitamins A, B and C and the minerals manganese and potassium.
Additionally, Brussels sprouts are high in fiber and alpha-lipoic acid, both of which have been proven to help keep blood sugar levels stable (11, 12Trusted Source).
Fiber slows down the digestive process in the body, resulting in a slower release of glucose into the bloodstream. This means that there are fewer spikes in blood sugar after consuming a fiber-rich meal (13Trusted Source).
Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant that may reduce high blood sugar levels and increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin (14Trusted Source).
Insulin is a hormone required for cells to absorb blood sugar. It keeps blood sugar levels from becoming too high or too low.
Alpha-lipoic acid has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, a painful type of nerve damage that affects many people with diabetes (15Trusted Source).
Summary Brussels sprouts are packed with nutrients and are
especially rich in vitamin K. They are high in alpha-lipoic acid, an
antioxidant that may benefit people with diabetes.
This popular root vegetable can be harvested in the summer months but reaches peak sweetness in fall and winter.
Chilly conditions cause carrots to convert stored starches into sugars to keep the water in their cells from freezing.
This makes carrots taste extra sweet in cooler weather. In fact, carrots harvested after a frost are often called “candy carrots.”
This crisp vegetable also happens to be highly nutritious. Carrots are an excellent source of beta-carotene, which can be converted to vitamin A in the body. One large carrot (72 grams) contains 241% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A (16).
Vitamin A is essential for eye health and is also important for immune function and proper growth and development.
What’s more, carrots are loaded with carotenoid antioxidants. These powerful plant pigments give carrots their bright color and may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Some studies suggest that a diet high in carotenoids may particularly help reduce the risk of certain cancers, including prostate and breast cancer (17Trusted Source, 18).
Summary Carrots thrive in colder weather. They are packed
with vitamin A and powerful antioxidants that may help protect against certain
diseases like prostate and breast cancer.
- Swiss Chard
Not only is Swiss chard tolerant to cold weather, but it is also very low in calories and high in nutrients.
In fact, one cup (36 grams) provides just 7 calories, yet contains almost half of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A and fulfills the daily recommended intake of vitamin K.
It is also a good source of vitamin C, magnesium and manganese (19).
In addition, the dark green leaves and brightly colored stems of Swiss chard are packed with beneficial plant pigments called betalains.
Betalains have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body and decrease the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, one of the main causes of heart disease (20Trusted Source, 21Trusted Source).
This green is widely used in the Mediterranean diet, which has been linked with numerous health benefits, including a reduction in heart disease (22).
Summary Swiss chard is very low in calories yet packed with
vitamins and minerals. It also contains antioxidants that may help reduce the
risk of heart disease.
Similar in appearance to carrots, parsnips are another kind of root vegetable with a host of unique health benefits.
Like carrots, parsnips grow sweeter as frigid temperatures set in, making them a delightful addition to winter dishes. They have a slightly earthy taste and are highly nutritious.
One cup (156 grams) of cooked parsnips contains almost 6 grams of fiber and 34% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C.
Additionally, parsnips are an excellent source of vitamins B and E, potassium, magnesium and manganese (23).
The high fiber content of parsnips also makes them an excellent choice for digestive health. They are especially high in soluble fiber, which forms a gel-like substance in the digestive system.
This can help slow the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream, which is especially helpful for those with diabetes (24Trusted Source).
Soluble fiber has also been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, breast cancer and stroke (25Trusted Source, 26, 27Trusted Source).
Summary Parsnips are highly nutritious root vegetables that
contain an impressive amount of soluble fiber, which has been linked to many
- Collard Greens
Like kale and Brussels sprouts, collard greens belong to the Brassica family of vegetables. Not to mention, it is also one of the most cold-hardy plants of the group.
This slightly bitter green can withstand prolonged freezing temperatures and tastes best after being exposed to frost.
The bitterness of collard greens is actually associated with the high amount of calcium found in the plant. In fact, one study found that vegetables with the highest calcium content tasted the most bitter (28Trusted Source).
The amount of calcium in collard greens is impressive, with one cup (190 grams) of cooked collards containing 27% of the daily recommended intake (29).
Calcium is essential for bone health, muscle contraction and nerve transmission, along with other important functions.
In addition, these greens are loaded with vitamin K, which plays a key role in bone health.
Studies show that adequate intake of vitamin K and calcium help reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures (30Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source).
Aside from being a great choice for promoting healthy, strong bones, collard greens are a good source of vitamins B and C, iron, magnesium and manganese.
Summary Collard greens have a slightly bitter flavor and are
packed with nutrients. They are especially high in calcium
and vitamin K, which are important for healthy bones.
Rutabagas are an underrated vegetable despite their impressive nutrient content.
These root vegetables grow best in cold weather and develop a sweeter flavor as the temperatures turn colder in the fall and winter.
All parts of the rutabaga plant can be eaten, including the leafy green tops that stick up from the ground.
One cup of cooked rutabaga (170 grams) contains more than half of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C and 16% of the daily recommended intake of potassium (32).
Potassium is crucial for heart function and muscle contraction. It also plays a key role in controlling blood pressure.
In fact, studies have shown that a diet rich in potassium may help reduce high blood pressure (33Trusted Source).
Moreover, observational studies have linked cruciferous vegetables like rutabagas to a lower risk of heart disease. In fact, one study found that eating more cruciferous vegetables could reduce the risk of developing heart disease by up to 15.8% (34Trusted Source).
Aside from being an excellent source of vitamin C and potassium, rutabagas are a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese.
Summary Rutabagas are root vegetables that are high in vitamin
C and potassium. Increasing your potassium intake may lower blood pressure and
reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Red Cabbage
Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable that thrives in cool weather. While both green and red cabbage are extremely healthy, the red variety has a greater nutrient profile.
One cup of raw, red cabbage (89 grams) contains 85% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C and high amounts of vitamins A and K.
It is also a good source of B vitamins, manganese and potassium (35).
However, where red cabbage really shines is in its antioxidant content. The bright color of this vegetable comes from pigments called anthocyanins.
Anthocyanins belong to the flavonoid family of antioxidants, which have been linked to a number of health benefits.
One of these benefits is the potential to reduce the risk of heart disease (36Trusted Source).
In a study of 93,600 women, researchers found that women with a higher intake of anthocyanin-rich foods were up to 32% less likely to have heart attacks than women who consumed fewer anthocyanin-rich foods (37Trusted Source).
In addition, high intakes of anthocyanins have been found to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease (38Trusted Source).
Additional evidence from test-tube and animal studies suggests that anthocyanins may have cancer-fighting abilities, as well (39Trusted Source, 40Trusted Source).
Summary Red cabbage is packed with nutrients including vitamins
A, C and K. It also contains anthocyanins, which may protect against heart
disease and certain cancers.
These jewel-toned vegetables are known for their spicy flavor and crunchy texture. What’s more, some varieties are very cold-hardy and can survive in freezing temperatures.
Radishes are rich in vitamins B and C, as well as potassium (41).
Their peppery taste is attributed to a special group of sulfur-containing compounds called isothiocyanates, which have been linked to many health benefits.
These powerful plant compounds act as antioxidants in the body, helping keep inflammation in check.
Radishes have been extensively researched for their potential cancer-fighting properties (42Trusted Source).
In fact, one test-tube study found that isothiocyanate-rich radish extract inhibited the growth of human breast cancer cells (43Trusted Source).
This effect has also been seen in test-tube and animal studies involving colon and bladder cancer cells (44, 45).
Although promising, more human studies on the potential cancer-fighting abilities of radishes are needed.
Summary Radishes are an excellent
source of vitamins B and C as well as potassium. Additionally, they contain
isothiocyanates, which may have cancer-fighting abilities.
While many herbs die out when the weather turns chilly, parsley can continue to grow through frigid temperatures and even snow.
Aside from being exceptionally cold-hardy, this aromatic green is full of nutrition.
Just one ounce (28 grams) fulfills the daily recommended intake of vitamin K and contains over half of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C.
It’s also loaded with vitamin A, folate, iron, calcium and potassium (46).
Parsley is an excellent source of flavonoids, including apigenin and luteolin, which are plant compounds that have many potential health benefits. These flavonoids may be particularly helpful in inhibiting memory loss and age-related changes in the brain.
One study found that a diet rich in luteolin reduced age-related inflammation in the brain of aged mice and improved memory by inhibiting inflammatory compounds (47).
Summary Parsley is a
cold-tolerant green that is rich in nutrients. It also contains the plant compound luteolin, which may promote brain health.
The Bottom Line
There are several vegetables that thrive in colder weather.
Certain types of vegetables, like carrots and parsnips, even take on a sweeter taste after being exposed to frost.
These cold-hardy vegetables make it possible to fill your diet with seasonal, nutrient-packed produce all winter long.
While any vegetable from this list would make a highly nutritious addition to your diet, there are many other winter vegetables that make great choices as well.
After all, adding any fresh produce to your diet will go a long way toward promoting your health.
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