It’s harvest season in North America, and that means the farmers markets and grocery stores are filled with seasonal produce. During the fall, we look forward to the colors of orange pumpkins and red apples, the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg, and the warm flavors of comfort food. When you eat seasonally, you’re consuming foods with a higher nutritional value because the product is at its best. Healthy fall foods include apples, carrots, cranberries, beets, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes. Summer salads are great and all, but how about a butternut squash soup to warm you up?
We’re here to help you navigate the transition from summer to fall diet so that you’re still getting the fuel you need to live a healthy lifestyle. We spoke with Melissa Smith, a naturopathic nutritional therapist, and Joshua Gaudry, a food scientist at Flannerys Organic & Wholefood Market, to learn about nutritious fall foods and how to incorporate them into your next meal.
Make sure you actually pick up a sweet potato when you’re shopping, as they’re often labeled as yams. Sweet potatoes are the “good” kind of carbs, the kind that’s whole and unprocessed, and an excellent source of fiber.
“Sweet potatoes have a high amount of beta-carotene and some B vitamins, as well as vitamin C, iron, and potassium,” explains Smith. “They’re great for removing toxins from the body and increasing milk production in lactating women.”
Sweet potatoes also have the added bonus of being flavorful. You can do a lot with this golden-orange vegetable, such as mash it, bake it, or roast it. Get creative!
“Slice sweet potato into rounds or cut into wedges. Coat it with melted coconut oil and season with pepper, salt, and cinnamon,” suggests Smith. “Then bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. You can even mash or puree sweet potatoes with carrots or turnips for added depth of flavor and sweetness.”
When fall rolls around, you know it’s time to add butternut squash to your diet. This awkwardly shaped vegetable is harvested in the fall in North America and is very nutrient-dense. It’s a great source of vitamin E, which helps promote healthy skin and hair. One serving of butternut squash contains 50% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, another vitamin that builds collagen for a healthy glow.
“It’s similar to other pumpkins yet butternut squash has more vitamin A, vitamin C, plus higher quantities of B vitamins,” explains Gaudry. “Butternut squash is higher in nutrient content so it comes with a higher calorie count as well.”
Butternut squash is totally tasty as a soup or puree. Better yet, roast it and season with salt and pepper for a big helping of natural vitamins.
“A good way to add it to your diet is to bake it and then make a puree, which you can add to your sauce bases for pasta and other flavored dishes,” says Gaudry.
Did fall even happen if you didn’t go to an orchard and pick apples? This is a great tradition of the Midwest and Northeast that actually encompasses what it means to eat seasonal foods. The apple goes straight from the tree to your plate without the added irradiation and wax that’s meant to preserve its shelf life. Apples are a nutritious fall food that’s full of fiber, vitamin C, and potassium. That’s why they say an apple a day keeps the doctor away!
“Apples are high in many vitamins and minerals such as vitamins C and A, potassium, and calcium,” explains Smith. “They’re also high in pectin — a fiber that helps remove toxins from the body. Pectin can also help in cases of diarrhea and constipation, as it absorbs water in the gastrointestinal tract and swells to a gummy mass; the mass provides bulk, which tends to normalize bowel function.”
Apples are fun to incorporate into your diet because they pair well with other ingredients. Cinnamon, peanut butter, and caramel are tasty companions to apples during the fall.
“You can grate and mix apples into porridge along with a sprinkle of cinnamon, or cut into wedges and top with almond butter as a snack,” suggests Smith.
Did you know that pumpkin is 94% water? That means it’s relatively low in calories. But while pumpkin is low in calories, it’s very high in vitamins and antioxidants. One cup of pumpkin holds 245% of the Reference Daily Intake of vitamin A, which helps protect your eyesight.
“Pumpkin is rich in vitamins and minerals such as potassium, manganese, and copper. It’s also relatively low in calories,” says Gaudry. “It’s easy to incorporate into your diet by adding pumpkin to your potato mash to mask the flavor and add more nutrients!”
Pears are a nutritious fall food in the Northern Hemisphere. There are over 3,000 different types of pears to choose from! The sweet, yet fibrous fruit is a great source of flavonoids, which help with the prevention of chronic diseases. As an added bonus, fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber, such as pears, help with weight loss or weight management as they tend to make you feel full longer.
“Like most fruits, pears have a good amount of vitamin C,” explains Gaudry. “They also have flavonoids and antioxidants and a good whack of fiber, which will keep your gut happy. Add pears to your morning muesli or add to your smoothies for sweetness.”
This healthy fall food is totally underrated. When you find them in stores, look for ones that are small and heavy for their size. You’ll want to choose turnips with bright-green tops and a nice purple color. Turnips are high in fiber, which may help with intestinal problems and reduce inflammation.
“Turnips are actually a cruciferous vegetable, and their greens are also highly nutritious. They contain glufosinate that has been shown to have anti-cancer properties,” explains Smith.
Not sure how to cook them? Boil and mash them as an alternative to mashed potatoes, or add turnips to your soup.
“Use turnips in place of potatoes in your favorite potato dish. They’re delicious steamed, pureed, or mashed,” says Smith.
Beetroot is the vegetable we love to hate. It’s an amazing seasonal vegetable in terms of being jam-packed with nutrients, but its taste isn’t everyone’s favorite. Eating organic beets may help reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure. The deep-purple vegetable is full of folate, iron, potassium, and vitamin C.
“Beets contain a unique set of antioxidants called betalains. These compounds provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and even support the body’s detoxification process,” explains Smith. “Beets also contain betaine, which is helpful for promoting cardiovascular health by reducing homocysteine — a key marker that’s associated with cardiovascular disease.”
Try adding pickled beets to your burger for a little upgrade. If you’re not a fan of their bold flavor, but would like to subtly add them to your diet, grate beets into your next meal.
“Grate beets raw into a coleslaw salad, or into a roasted veg medley with onion, garlic, and carrots drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with oregano or rosemary,” suggests Smith.
Cranberries are like the transformers of fruit — they can be made into cranberry sauce, cranberry juice, or added to a harvest salad. It’s an incredibly nutritious fall food that’s native to North America. If you’re looking for a natural source of vitamins C, A, and K, then consider incorporating cranberries into your diet. They also help prevent bacteria from sticking to your urinary tract walls, which makes it useful in preventing urinary tract infections (UTI).
“Cranberries are rich in antioxidants and proanthocyanidins,” says Gaudry. “These magic berries can help prevent and treat urinary tract infections. They’re also high in fiber so will keep your gut happy.”
Be wary of buying dried cranberries and cranberry juice as those products tend to be high in sugar. Gaudry suggests diluting pure cranberry juice in other juices or water to help mask the naturally tart flavor.
“Brussels sprouts contain the highest amount of glucosinolate over all other cruciferous vegetables,” explains Smith. “This phytonutrient turns into sulforaphane when chewed, which has been shown to enhance the function of detoxification enzymes and switch on tumor suppressor proteins that may protect against cancer formation.”
The bitter taste of brussels sprouts isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. To improve its flavor, incorporate this vegetable into your stir-fries on a chilly fall day.
“Brussels sprouts are great in stir-fries,” says Smith. “Cut the sprouts in half and stir-fry in coconut oil, then season with pepper, salt, and tamari sauce. They’re also fantastic steamed, then tossed in butter.” Sounds good to us!