By Maureen Scaramella, R.D.
When we think of fall, we immediately think about pumpkin. But autumn weather also creates perfect growing conditions for other cool-season crops like squash, broccoli and fruits such as apples and pomegranates. All of these foods contain a powerhouse of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and have heart-healthy properties. These fall “super foods” are versatile and easy to prepare, and the great variety of choices is suitable to any type of meal planning.
Pears: The many varieties of pears peak between August and February. They are rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, fiber and more
Pumpkin, acorn and butternut squash: S Squash’s orange color gives it a large amount of vitamin A and beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is good for vision, immunity and overall health. The carotenoids, including lutein, play a leading role in this nutrient-rich profile. There is also a considerable amount of vitamin C, antioxidant minerals (manganese) and starches. These cell-wall starches or polysaccharides provide key antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits for cardiovascular health. Some new research suggests that there may be a unique substance in these cucurbita vegetables that partially block the formation of cholesterol in our cells.
Winter squashes are a bit higher in calories (about 75 calories per cup) compared to their summer cousins like zucchini, but they’re also higher in fiber and more filling. Simply roasted or made into soup, these brightly colored gems are easy to use and offer a wide variety of meal options.
Butternut squash has become a favorite among the winter squashes for its silky consistency and its slightly sweet, nutty flavor. For an easy side dish, purchase fresh or frozen, peeled and cubed butternut squash. Toss approximately 2 lbs cubed squash with 2 tablespoons butter or canola oil and brown sugar as well as a teaspoon of kosher salt and ground black pepper. Roast at 400 degrees until fork tender (approx 45 minutes). Remember to turn the squash while roasting so that it browns evenly. An easy and nutritious addition to this dish is lightly sautéed or wilted baby spinach or Swiss chard and cooked sliced red onions. Another topping idea is sautéed green apple wedges with a garnish of dried cranberries and toasted nuts.
Brussels sprouts: Not just for Thanksgiving dinner, brussels sprouts make a great dinner side any time of the year. Like other cruciferous vegetables, brussels sprouts are high in fiber and may help lower cholesterol.
Turnips and rutabagas: These are cruciferous veggies, like broccoli, collards and kale, and thrive in temperate climates. They’re high in calcium and potassium, among other nutrients, and are great mashed or simply steamed.
Sweet potatoes: These super tubers are high in vitamins and fiber and beta-carotene. Purple sweet potatoes are becoming increasingly popular for their antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Sweet potatoes provide a colorful alternative to regular white potatoes and add more flavor to any menu.
Apples: Apples: An apple a day really might keep the doctor away, some studies have found, as they can reduce stroke and heart disease risk. Most apple varieties peak beginning in September. Most markets have a wide variety of apples available this time of the year to satisfy any eating or cooking preference.
Grapefruit, oranges and tangerines: You don’t have to feel fruit-deprived during fall and winter. Peak citrus season is really in the cooler months. These fruits have been found to help reduce stroke risk and more, plus their low calorie content makes them weight-loss friendly. Cut up fall citrus fruits in salads for a sweet, refreshing taste.
Grapes: These antioxidant superstars are at their peak in autumn—they’re typically harvested between August and October. Grapes make a great addition to many menus and provide a little sweet bite to lighter dishes with fish and chicken.
Cranberries: Thanksgiving’s favorite super food, these tart berries peak beginning in September. They’re too tart to eat raw, but watch out for canned versions, which are often high in sugar.
Broccoli and cauliflower: These cruciferous veggies peak in the fall, offering plenty of folate, vitamins and antioxidants. Broccoli in particular contains anti-cancer compounds and high levels of vitamin C. Added to salads or made into pureed soups, these two vegetables can help fill you up without the caloric impact.
Pomegranates: Pomegranates have recently gained a reputation as nutritional superstars, thanks to their antioxidant profile. Some studies indicate that they may help prevent heart disease and cancer. Sprinkle the seeds onto salads or over Greek yogurt for a burst of flavor and nutrients.
Swiss chard: Eat both the leaves and stems of this leafy and colorful green, which peaks in late summer and fall. It’s high in vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as calcium and iron. Prepared simply steamed with some seasoning this made a nice alternative to spinach in a recipe.