The leaves are falling and the temperature is dropping. Warm sweaters and cozy slippers have begun to take their rightful place in our home. As a nutritionist and lover of food, each changing season brings different flavours to once again become familiar with. The colder months cause us to crave hearty dishes that warm our bellies and our souls. My crock pot comes out of hiding and the pantry fills up with squash and pumpkins, as well as wonderful root vegetables like beets, carrots and sweet potatoes. The children and I go apple picking and decorate our porch with pumpkins and mums.
To celebrate this glorious season, I want to share with you a few of the health benefits of some my favourite fall foods. Hippocrates said, ‘Let food be thy medicine.’ We live in a world where much of our nourishment comes from a package of some sort. Food is often purchased in boxes, cans and plastic bags. What if we took a step back and focused our diet on real food? I wonder what would begin to happen to the health of our parents, our children and ourselves if we made this a priority? Why not take me up on a challenge of visiting your local farm, market or grocery store and only purchasing whole, real foods? All of the foods I mention below can be sourced locally and are grown in fields that are close to our homes. Eating local is not only great for our economy but it also provides us with food that is richer in nutrient content than produce that has travelled the skies and ocean. The longer vegetables and fruit have to travel to get to us, the earlier in season they are typically harvested. When fruits and vegetables are picked before they are ready to eat, they contains less vitamin and enzyme activity than if given the opportunity to ripen naturally.
Apples¬ – Apples are a great source of fibre. A medium sized apple contains about 4 grams of fibre! There is truth to the saying, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away!’ Apples are a great source of antioxidants or disease fighting compounds. We are blessed with an abundance of local apples of all varieties. Try making some applesauce or apple crisp; nothing beats the smell of fresh apples cooking.
Beets – Don’t throw away the greens! Beet tops are loaded with minerals necessary for healthy cell growth. Try sautéing with a little butter and enjoy with a sprinkle of sea salt. The beetroot is also delicious when steamed and topped with a little butter, sea salt and pepper. Beets provide antioxidants, are anti¬-inflammatory and help aid in detoxification.
Butternut Squash¬ – Butternut squash has loads of antioxidants and vitamins. It is low in calories and high in nutrients. Try swapping it out for potatoes and rice. Butternut squash is a member of the pumpkin family and you can eat the flower, fruit and seeds. The seeds are high in tryptophan, an amino acid that can help with mood and sleep.
Carrots -¬ Carrots are second only to potatoes in popularity- and with good reason! They are full of antioxidants and they are a member of the carotenoid family. They may help prevent disease and improve eyesight. The average American eats about 12 pounds of carrots a year. That’s roughly one cup per week. There are over 100 species of carrots and they come in more colours than orange. There are also white, purple, yellow and red carrots too.
Cauliflower – ¬ Move over kale, this year’s biggest food craze is cauliflower. Cauliflower is low glycemic, full of fibre and an excellent source of vitamin B6, C, K and folate. It is also quite the versatile vegetable as well. You can roast it, steam it, mash it, turn it into rice, and even use it to make a gluten free pizza crust!
Garlic¬ – Garlic helps fight the common cold and the flu. It is known to boost the immune system and has anti¬viral and anti¬bacterial properties. Studies have also found garlic to be useful in reducing high blood pressure as well.
Pumpkin – Pumpkins are not just fabulous front porch decorations, they are a great source of nutrition as well! Pumpkins are a terrific source of fibre. One cup of pumpkin contains a whopping 7 grams of fibre! It is also a great source of beta carotene which is converted into vitamin A in our bodies. This means it does an excellent job of supporting our eye health. It also help reduce blood glucose levels, which makes it an ideal food if you are concerned about blood sugar regulation.
Spaghetti Squash – Spaghetti squash is a good source of fibre as well as vitamin A, B6, C, K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate. And, just like the name would suggest, it can be easily swapped out for noodles in a pasta dish.
Sweet Potato – The sweet potato, also known as yam, ¬has 214% of your RDA of Vitamin A. Which is almost twice as much as what you get from carrots! It is also a good source of vitamin B1, B6, and C, as well as fibre, niacin and potassium. Next time you are craving a potato, why not give the sweet potato a chance to win you over?
There is no end to the possibilities of creating new family favourites with some of these great local foods. Take a trip to the market and pick up a basket of goodness…maybe I’ll see you there!
Amy Sonnenberg is a Nutritionist at the Clock Tower Wellness Centre in Elmira.