Seasonal Eating

09/01/09: By Dorothy J Pattison PhD RD, NRAS Dietary Advisor

Taken from NRAS magazine, Winter 2008

It’s important to continue to eat healthily, even more so when this is the time of year that we need to be able to fend off cold and flu viruses and keep ourselves warm. While ‘food availability’ makes it possible to eat fresh salads and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables all year round, it can be expensive and certainly increases the ‘air miles’ used to supply these foods. So how can we get the necessary nutrients in the winter months?

The winter season offers a wide variety of root vegetables such as carrot, parsnip, turnip, swede and some less common ones such as sweet potato and celeriac. In a previous article in the NRAS Summer 2007 Newsletter the importance of ‘antioxidant’ nutrients was highlighted because of their potential anti-inflammatory action. Many of the orange/red coloured root vegetables provide a good source of antioxidants like vitamin C, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin. For example, sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, beta-carotene and fibre. Sweet potatoes can be boiled, mashed or roasted and tend to be eaten along with starchy carbohydrates. The cooking time is generally less than for ‘ordinary’ potatoes.

Root vegetables are extremely versatile, not just an accompaniment to roast meats and meat alternatives. Beetroot is particularly high in antioxidant nutrients and can be used to make a hearty soup such as Borsch. Although many root vegetables can be eaten raw (e.g. grated in salads) light cooking will break down the fibrous tissue and release nutrients for easier absorption by the body.

OrangesFruits such as tangerines, clementines and satsumas are popular at this time of year and are a rich source of antioxidant nutrients, especially vitamin C, and there is no reason why people with RA shouldn’t eat citrus fruits. Dried fruits including figs, prunes, dates, cranberries and apricots are good sources of antioxidants, fibre, iron and some calcium.

The Festive Season

With winter comes Christmas, synonymous with over eating! For some of us Christmas results in a fairly major change in our eating habits for several days. We know that for a small number of people with RA certain foods can provoke symptoms, so it is possible that a sudden change in diet with lots of new and processed foods could provoke symptoms of inflammation. So, it would be prudent to keep dietary changes and the introduction of new and processed foods to a minimum – as a precaution. Saturated fat intake can still be moderated and polyunsaturated fat intake increased by using (or continuing to use) alternatives such as olive or rapeseed oil products.

Festive Eating Tips

  • Have a bowl of fruit present at all times to encourage consumption
  • Serve slices of fruit with cheese and biscuits, a little less cheese = less saturated fat
  • Use low fat dairy products in cooking as well as at the table and in drinks
  • Be canny with recipes that use large quantities of butter and cream – consider alternatives such as low fat spreads or olive oil based spreads, low fat cr è me fra î che or yoghurt - or just use less!
  • Smoked salmon, mackerel or sardine pâtés (or plain) are ideal omega-3 rich starters or toppings for snacks
  • Turkey and chicken are lower in fat than duck or goose but whichever the bird, the skin is loaded with fat (saturated)
  • If roasting vegetables, including potatoes, the larger the size, the less fat they will absorb
  • Use available fruits to create lower calorie puddings e.g. stewed fruit compote or whiz them up with low fat milk or yoghurt to make a fruit smoothie or a yoghurt drink
  • If you’re feeling tired and in need of an energy boost try nutritious snacks like:

- dried fruits and unsalted nuts; wholegrain toast and banana (with peanut butter); wholegrain crackers and low fat or soft (pasteurised) cheese; a fruit ‘smoothie’ or yoghurt drink (as above)

  • People on biological therapy and/or methotrexate should be aware of the risk of food borne infections, particularly Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella. Listeria commonly resides in unpasteurised dairy products such as milk and soft cheese plus processed meats, hot dogs and refrigerated pâté. Salmonella is found in raw or partially cooked egg, poultry and meat. So as well as c ooking food thoroughly, t ake care when storing and/or re-heating leftovers. Cool leftovers quickly (1-2 hours) and store in the fridge to stop food poisoning bacteria growing and use leftovers within two days.
  • Have a break from the chores (and eating) and enjoy a walk instead, weather permitting!