Fall is one of the best times of the year for local and fresh produce. From September to November, the autumn harvest brings a variety of healthful and delicious produce, including squash, sweet potatoes, apples and beets.
While almost all produce can be grown somewhere year-round, transporting produce across the country (or across the world) increases our carbon “foodprint”. Food grown close to home travels less distance, and local farmers tend to use more eco-friendly methods than industrial farms. Buying local also helps local economies, and may also result in more nutritious produce.
To get the best of what fall has to offer, check out these top autumn produce picks that are both delicious and super healthy. Don’t be afraid to try something new (have you tried Chioggia beets, or Red Kuri Squash?).
Apples contain a variety of phytochemicals, including quercetin, catechin, phloridzin and chlorogenic acid, all of which are strong antioxidants. Research has shown that the antioxidants and dietary fibre contained in apples may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, asthma, heart disease and diabetes.
But not all apples provide the same health benefits. Fuji and red delicious consistently rank highest for their antioxidant content, while Cortland and Empire apples (typically used for cooking and baking) don’t have quite as much nutritional punch.
There are lot of ways to enjoy apples, but if you are looking for something that is very easy to prepare, try slicing and baking apples, and sprinkle them with cinnamon and nutmeg.
They may be available year-round, but beets are at their best in the fall. Besides the familiar red beets, you can also find golden, white, and multi-coloured varieties, such as the “candy cane” Chioggia variety. Beets have been studied for their benefits to liver health, eye sight, heart disease and neurological conditions. Although many recipes focus on the root, the healthiest part of the plant is actually the greens. Besides containing important nutrients like protein, zinc, phosphorus, fibre, vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese, beet greens also supply significant amounts of vitamins A and C, and calcium. And beet greens contain more iron than spinach (another leafy green in the same botanical family) as well as a higher nutritional value overall than the beetroot itself.
Examples of how you can include beet greens in your diet include tossing the greens in a salad, juiciing them, or adding them to a green smoothie. They are also delicious boiled, steamed or sautéed, seasoned with fresh herbs and spices. Beet greens contain a high amount of oxalic acid (though less than some other greens such as spinach), so people who are prone to kidney stones should enjoy them in moderation.
Brussels sprouts have had a bad reputation, being served only at Christmas and Thanksgiving. But they are starting to gain in popularity, thanks to our increasing knowledge of their health benefits. Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, a good source of folacin and dietary fibre, and they are one the best green vegetable sources of protein.
Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of Brussels sprouts and similar cruciferous vegetables can decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality. Researchers have also been able to pinpoint that the sulfur-containing compounds in Brussels sprouts that provide their bitter taste also contain properties that combat cancer. Specifically, Brussels sprouts have shown promising results with esophageal, prostate, and pancreatic cancer, as well as melanoma.
Cabbage has been linked to all kinds of health benefits: Red cabbage is full of vitamin K and anthocyanins that help with mental function and concentration. These nutrients also prevent nerve damage, improving your defense against Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia. Cabbage also has well-known cancer preventative compounds lupeol, sinigrin and sulforaphane. The sulphur content in cabbage is good for detoxification (reducing levels of free radicals and uric acid) and is essential for keratin, a protein substance necessary for healthy hair, nails, and skin. It is also an anti-inflammatory and blood sugar regulator - the natural red pigments of red cabbage (betalains) are said to lower blood sugar levels and boost insulin production.
Ideas for adding cabbage to your diet include using it in soup, casseroles, veggie bowls, and a lower glycemic version of cabbage rolls, using tempeh and quinoa instead of rice.
Squash and Pumpkins
Think of autumn and most of us think of squash and pumpkins.
Squash is a powerhouse of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is helpful in cancer prevention and immune system support. Most of us have eaten the more common varieties, such as acorn, butternut, delicata, and spaghetti squash. But if you are looking for something new, visit a farmers’ market to find other interesting varieties, such as kabocha, sweet dumpling or red kuri. A member of the Japanese squash family, red kuri is creamy, sweet and has a deep orange skin. Its gentle chestnut flavour is great in soups or tossed with olive oil and roasted.
Although they may be best known for their role at Halloween, pumpkins are one of the best sources of alpha- and beta-carotene, which can be converted into retinol to promote healthy vision and cell growth. Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of alpha-linoleic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that may help those with heart disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.
Another great source of beta-carotene, one serving of sweet potato has four times the recommended daily allowance. Sweets potatoes are also loaded with fiber and potassium. They have more grams of natural sugars than regular potato but more overall nutrients with fewer calories; they are a great substitute for white potatoes in autumn recipes: soups, stews, and casseroles.
Looking for help with meal planning? Check out www.active-nutrition/services.