It’s time to trade in the heavy stews and stick-to-your-bones winter fare. Spring is here, and with it comes a bounty of fresh produce that’s packed with nutrients.
“Eating seasonally, or buying foods that are currently harvested means that we save money because we’re choosing foods that are in peak supply and do not need expensive transportation costs,” Andrea D’Ambrosio, a registered dietitian and Dietitians of Canada spokesperson, said.
“Eating food that’s in season allows you to enjoy some of the best-tasting produce that didn’t travel halfway around the world to get to your plate, too,” she said.
Now that we’ve ushered in the spring season, Global News asked a handful of registered dietitians for their favourite springtime fruits and vegetables. We tasked them with picking the most nutritious and delicious options.
Here are their choices:
Sugar snap peas
These green gems are full of vitamin C, vitamin A, and antioxidants that boost immunity and keep connective tissue strong, according to Christy Brissette, a Toronto-based registered dietitian and president of 80 Twenty Nutrition. They’re also good sources of vitamin K and several B vitamins which kick start your metabolism.
“They’re delicious and versatile. Their sweet crunchiness makes them perfect for snacking on their own, dipping in hummus, or adding to a salad,” Brissette said.
She eats them sautéed in a bit of sesame oil with fresh ginger and sesame seeds. They cook within two to three minutes.
This quirky vegetable is in season for a short window of time on the East Coast of Canada, but they’re one of Krista Leck Merner’s favourites. Leck Merner is a Halifax-based registered dietitian at Bent Fork Nutrition.
“These curly, dark green gems are a great source of vitamin A and vitamin C and are only about 34 calories for 100 grams,” Leck Merner said.
She likes to eat them steamed as a side to a lean protein, topped with a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper. Butter can be a tasty addition, too.
A handful of the experts picked rhubarb as fresh produce they look forward to in the spring season. For Nicole Osinga, a Courtice, Ont.-based registered dietitian, it’s because it blends so well with fruits, especially in baked dishes.
“My favourite way to have rhubarb is in a strawberry rhubarb oatmeal bake with pecans,” she said. She adds Greek yogurt when she eats it for breakfast to round out the dish.
“There is no better sign of spring than when rhubarb pops through the ground … remember, the leaves are poisonous, though. Not the leafy green to eat,” Leck Merner said.
Rhubarb is a great source of vitamin C, provides two grams of fibre per 100 gram serving and is only 21 calories per serving.
Leck Merner stirs rhubarb into her Greek yogurt, or adds it to muffin mixes.
Early spring is the growing season for asparagus, another vegetable that’s tasty eaten raw or cooked, according to Megan Wallace, an Edmonton-based dietitian.
“I use a vegetable peeler to add raw asparagus ‘ribbons’ to salads or roast it whole with minced garlic and a drizzle of olive oil,” she told Global News.
Dill belongs to the carrot family, along with other herbs like parsley and fennel. Although it’s usually consumed in small amounts, it’s incredibly nutrient-dense, according to Susan MacFarlane, an Ottawa-based registered dietitian.
It’s a great source of calcium, iron, vitamin C, folate and potassium.
It can be added to dishes to enhance flavour, but it pairs best with fennel, celery and carrots, MacFarlane said.
“Dill can also be added in large portions to dishes without necessarily overpowering the dish. But it should be added at the end as it can lose flavour quickly,” MacFarlane said.
Try adding it to soups, stews, vegetable sauces, marinades and savoury breads.
Spinach is a green powerhouse that’s versatile – it can be eaten raw or cooked. Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin A, which helps to keep your eyes, skin and immune system healthy, D’Ambrosio said.
It’s also packed with vitamins and minerals, such as potassium, vitamin K, iron, folate, magnesium, calcium and vitamin C.
An added bonus: spinach is low in calories.
D’Ambrosio makes salads with spinach, strawberries and feta cheese, or adds them by the handful to sautees, sauces, smoothies, soups and casseroles. You can even make a spinach pesto for sandwiches and pizzas.
Fresh fennel is a bit more of a trickier find, but they’re worth the wait, according to Brissette.
“Its bright and fresh licorice taste comes through in both the crisp bulb and the feathery fronds, which look a lot like dill,” she told Global News.
Fresh fennel is loaded with potassium, which is essential for fluid balance and heart function, as well as folate, an essential B vitamin, and fibre. Once you cut the stalks away from the bulb, the bulb can be prepared in many different ways.
“I love slicing it super thinly and tossing it with orange segments and olive oil for a refreshing salad, or cutting the bulb into quarters and roasting it with garlic until tender,” Brissette said.
The fronds can be used as a garnish the same way you’d work with any fresh herb.
Radishes are part of the cruciferous vegetable family, like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. They come in different shapes and colours, but across the board, they’re all good for you, Brissette said.
They’re anti-inflammatory, phytochemical-rich powerhouses that are also high in vitamin C, folate, B vitamins, vitamin K and potassium.
“My favourite use for radishes is simply slicing them very thinly and adding them to a green salad. Their crunchy texture and surprising peppery flavour make a simple salad interesting and delicious,” Brissette said.
They’re also delicious roasted, as they keep their spiciness but become soft and juicy instead of crisp and crunchy.
Strawberry season will pick up in June and they’re D’Ambrosio’s favourite when they’re ripe. In a single cup serving, strawberries give you 160 per cent of your daily vitamin C requirements as well as 3.5 grams of fibre to help you feel full and fight heart disease. It’s a light 50-calorie snack, too.
“The bright red colour comes from the antioxidant anthocyanins, which helps in the prevention of diabetes, cancer and heart disease,” D’Ambrosio said.
Arugula is great in April and May, Osinga said. It’s rich in vitamin A, providing 50 per cent of your daily needs in just a cup. Osinga loves adding the peppery tasting vegetable to salads with roasted chickpeas and mangoes.