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Fall foods for gut & immune health

pumpkin soup
image credit Chris Vanhove

As the leaves change and a crisp chill fills the air, our dietary preferences naturally shift towards heartier, warming foods. Fall and winter are seasons of cozy comfort it’s cold and gloomy outside and we naturally crave nourishing and warming foods and what better way to embrace them than by savoring the seasonal, and local produce that nature provides?

In this blog post, we'll explore the importance of eating in harmony with the seasons, not only for the benefit of your gut bacteria and overall health but also for the environment. We'll highlight the different foods and nutrients and recipe inspiration.

70% of your immune defense lies in your gut, so keeping these microbes happy is key to a good immune response. Eating seasonally is one way to nourish your gut bacteria with the right microbes that your body needs during the respective season.

During the fall and winter, foods like root vegetables, squashes, and cruciferous vegetables are at their peak. They provide prebiotics, which serve as nourishment for your gut bacteria. By consuming seasonal produce, you are helping maintain a diverse and healthy gut microbiome, which is essential for your immune defense, but also for proper digestion and nutrient absorption.

Our bodies require different nutrients to thrive in the changing seasons. Fall and winter foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help protect against the cold weather's challenges. For instance:

  • Vitamin C: Citrus fruit like oranges and grapefruits have a fair amount of it, but broccoli and parsley are even better!

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fatty fish like salmon and trout, abundant in colder months, provide omega-3s, crucial for helping your body anti-inflame and essentially for your heart and brain health.

  • Iron: winter is the time where we eat more heartier meats and stews that will naturally provide us with more iron

  • Vitamin A is critical for maintaining your body’s natural defenses. These defenses include the mucous barriers in your eyes, lungs, gut, and genitals which are designed to help trap bacteria and other infectious agents. Vitamin A is also involved in the production and function of white blood cells, their job is to help capture and clear bacteria and other pathogens from your bloodstream. This means that when you are deficient in vitamin A, that can increase your susceptibility to infections or delay your recovery when you do get sick. (Source)

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. Foods such as liver, egg yolks, and salmon are rich in vitamin A and in that form they are bio available for your body, it doesn’t need to convert it as it is the case with the plant foods. We have a lot of plant-based veggies available in winter though that are considered “provitamin A” foods, as the beta-carotene converts to vitamin A. Beta-carotene is the pigment that gives foods a red-orange and yellow color. You need to make sure you consume these along with fats and oils so that your body can convert them to vitamin A.

The vegetables rich in provitamin A that we need most to build a strong immune system in the fall and winter are:

  • Carrots

  • Rutabagas

  • Pumpkin

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Winter squash

  • Dark green, leafy vegetables

  • Broccoli

Other fall and winter foods you can incorporate into your diet (be aware of the high starch/sugar content of many of these though and make sure to limit the quantity as not impact your blood sugar, especially in luteal phase):

  • Root Vegetables: Celery root, parsnips, turnips and beets are versatile, nutrient-rich staples that can be roasted, mashed, or made into hearty soups.

  • Squashes: Butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash are perfect for creamy soups, roasts, or baking

  • Cruciferous Vegetables: Cabbages, Broccoli and Brussels sprouts add a robust flavor to your dishes and also support estrogen detox

  • Apples and Pears: These fruits are very rich in fiber and are great sweeteners for baking or dessert ingredients.

  • Citrus fruit: added to a winter salad or drinking a lemon ginger hot tea are great ways to get in some extra antioxidants and vitamins

  • Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, and chestnuts are excellent for snacking or incorporating into dishes for added crunch and nutrition.

  • Seasonal Herbs and Spices: Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, rosemary, and sage are the aromatic stars of fall and winter dishes, adding warmth and flavor.

Buying local produce sustains local farmers, artisans, and businesses, preserving the agricultural landscape and cultural diversity that makes each region unique.

Local produce is often harvested at its peak ripeness and delivered to consumers faster. This means you're getting fresher, more nutrient-dense foods that haven't lost their vitality during prolonged transport and storage. It also mostly means less pesticides.

Looking for recipe inspiration?

Check out my hormone balance cookbook, I’ve just updated it with yummy new fall & winter recipes:

  • Vegan “Saag Paneer”p44

  • Oven baked sesame-miso eggplant p44

  • Mung bean risotto with pumpkin p40

  • Vegan broccoli “cheddar” stew p40

  • Low carb pumpkin pie p62

  • I’ve also added a protein cheat sheet on protein quantities on p14

These are some of my fav recipes you need to check out too:

  • the hearty lamb sausages,

  • creamy cauliflower chowder,

  • oven grilled winter veggies,

  • almond feta,

  • keto bread and

  • goat cheese rosemary muffins

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