By Tina Winston
Fall is a time to embrace roasted root vegetables, hearty salads, and warm, fruit-laden desserts that incorporate the nutritious bounty of the season. These eight late-harvest foods will inspire you to create comforting autumn fare.
A culinary delicacy of biblical proportions, figs have been revered by ancient civilizations for centuries. These sweet, delicate produce specialties are one of the best fruit sources of polyphenols, antioxidants that may help prevent LDL, or “bad cholesterol,” from clogging up arteries. For a classic Mediterranean breakfast, top a bowl of tangy plain nonfat Greek yogurt with sliced fresh figs. Or, use dried figs to add natural sweetness to homemade protein bars — the perfect treat for fall hikes.
Currently trending in culinary circles, this cruciferous vegetable is now being highlighted on top chefsʼ seasonal menus across the country. Although tiny, these little cabbages are chock-full of potent compounds called glucosinolates. Your body converts glucosinolates into isothiocyanates, cancer-fighting superstars that may prevent DNA damage on the cellular level. Here’s an easy recipe to try: Thinly slice Brussels sprouts into a slaw, and sauté with olive oil, garlic, and balsamic vinegar. Go from side dish to entrée by combining the sautéed sprouts with cooked quinoa and dried cranberries.
Often underappreciated for its nutritional benefits, the everyday onion is actually surprisingly rich in bioactive compounds. Bulbs are at their peak ripeness when harvested in the fall, a time when their signature flavonoid, quercetin, is most abundant. Studies suggest that quercetin, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound, may have immune-boosting properties. Eating onions raw in salads and sandwiches may offer a special health advantage — animal studies indicate that raw onion improves blood flow by inhibiting clot formation.
A true “Paleo food,” beets can be traced back to prehistoric times and have been used medicinally for generations. The root gets its rich crimson coloring from betalains, pigments with powerful antioxidant and cancer-fighting activity. Beets have heart health benefits, too. A trial published in the journal Hypertension found that drinking an 8-ounce glass of beet juice led to a decrease in blood pressure over 24 hours. Blend a beet into your fruit smoothie (raw or cooked — your choice!), or roast a few bunches and add them to salads and sandwiches all week long.
One of the most common winter squashes, butternut is a deliciously sweet, nutty veggie that has come to embody the fall harvest season. The vibrant orange flesh delivers a superior dose of the antioxidant beta-carotene along with its sister compounds, alpha-carotene and lutein. These carotenoids promote sharp vision and glowing, youthful skin. Add butternut squash puree to mac and cheese for a blast of nutrient-rich produce.
Although it often plays second fiddle to the season’s much beloved apple, the pear is a true nutritional heavyweight. One pear provides 5 grams of appetite-squashing fiber (more than an apple!), and the skin is teeming with vital disease-fighting phytonutrients. Red-skinned pears have the added bonus of providing anthocyanins, the same memory-boosting compounds found in berries. Use pears to add sweetness to savory sides like stuffing, roasted vegetables, and green salads. Or, grab one as a snack to enjoy the pure flavor of a juicy, ripe pear all on its own.
If you already love spinach and kale, it’s time to introduce your kitchen to this under-the-radar leafy green. Like Brussels sprouts, mustard greens belong to the cancer-fighting cruciferous family. And the peppery leaves are rich in sulforaphane, an antioxidant enzyme booster that enhances the effects of vitamins C, E, and A, which may in turn help protect your skin from aging and environmental damage. Sauté mustard greens with sesame oil, garlic, salt and pepper and top with toasted sliced almonds for a flavorful dinner side. Or, add the chopped greens to pasta dishes to transform an everyday entrée into an age-defying meal!
Native Americans first shared the nourishing properties of pumpkin, a staple of the autumn table, with our Pilgrim ancestors hundreds of years ago. From its vitamin-packed flesh to its magnesium-rich seeds, this earthy vegetable is truly a “whole food.” Pumpkin also contains a unique medicinal component called cucurmosin, a compound that is currently being studied for its ability to inhibit tumor growth. To get your fill of this seasonal favorite, enjoy roasted pumpkin seeds as an energy-boosting midday snack, and add a scoop of canned (or fresh) pumpkin puree to your morning oatmeal or a container of nonfat vanilla yogurt.
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