Embrace the bountiful foods of fall

Cheryl Mussatto | MS, RD, LD

We often think of fall as the time of year for variety of produce to wane. The growing season is winding down, the weather is turning colder, and many farmers’ markets are closed until next spring.

Yet, a walk through the grocery store this time of year has a nice surprise. There is actually a bountiful amount and diversity of fall produce waiting to be taken home by you. Many of these delicacies have been overlooked all spring and summer, as more popular produce such as strawberries, watermelon, or asparagus get snatched up first. But now is the time for the fabulous foods of fall to take center stage, being on full display of what they each have to offer.

Mustard greens
Let me introduce you to mustard greens. If you love spinach and kale, you will also fall in love with this under-the-radar leafy green. A member of the cancer-fighting cruciferous family, the bright green leaves are rich in sulforaphane, an antioxidant enzyme booster enhancing the effects of vitamins A, C, and E. This is good news for your skin providing protection from aging and environmental damage. Not sure how to use mustard greens? Simply sauté the greens with sesame or olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and top with toasted sliced almonds for a flavorful side dish.

Butternut squash
Here is a squash that personifies fall. The deliciously sweet, nutty flavor of butternut squash is perfect for a chilly fall evening. The vibrant eye-catching orange flesh means it is loaded with the antioxidant beta-carotene crucial for healthy, glowing skin in addition to lutein, which promotes sharp vision.

Beets
It’s hard to beat beets in terms of nutritional health. This ruby red beauty gets its crimson color from betalains, pigments with powerful antioxidant and cancer-fighting activity. Beets are also known for keeping your heart in tip-top shape. Drinking an eight-ounce glass of beet juice was shown to reduce blood pressure in just one day. Beets can be roasted and tossed into salads or added to sandwiches for a healthy dose of immune-boosting vitamin C, fiber and essential minerals like potassium and manganese.

Pears
You would never guess but pears actually boast one of the highest amounts of fiber, six grams, even more than an apple. Pears have a rich history as they were often used in works of Renaissance Masters in elegant still-life paintings and were immortalized in the 18th-century Christmas carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. Be sure to retain the skin as it is brimming with vital disease-fighting phytochemicals. Try out mouthwatering sweet red-skinned pears as they contain anthocyanins, the same memory boosting compounds found in berries. Pears pair great with savory sides like stuffing, roasted veggies and green salads or grab one to enjoy as a snack on its own.

Onions
Poor onions, few of us consider it a powerhouse of nutrients, but this jewel is quite superior in bioactive compounds found within. Their signature flavonoid, quercetin, is the most abundant compound that acts as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory each having immune-boosting abilities. So, go ahead and add in raw onion to a salad or sandwich. Studies have shown raw onions improve blood flow by inhibiting clot formation.

Figs
Revered by ancient civilizations for centuries, figs are one of the best sources of polyphenols, which are antioxidants that may help prevent LDL, or bad cholesterol from clogging up arteries. Their sweet, delicate taste goes well with a bowl of tangy plain nonfat Greek yogurt or use dried figs to add in natural sweetness to homemade protein bars, perfect for a fall hike.

Pumpkin
It just wouldn’t be fall without at least one meal containing pumpkin. This staple of an autumn table, pumpkins have a vitamin-packed flesh loaded with magnesium-rich seeds to enjoy roasted. Pumpkins signature bright orange color is a dead giveaway that they are loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta-carotene performs many important functions in overall health by possibly reducing the risk of developing certain types of cancer along with offering protection against heart disease. Add a scoop of canned or fresh pumpkin puree to your morning oatmeal or to a container of nonfat vanilla yogurt.

Brussels sprouts
Bearing a striking resemblance to a tiny cabbage, Brussels sprouts are a top cruciferous vegetable making a frequent appearance on menus across the country. Chocked-full of potent compounds called glucosinolates, our body converts this compound into isothiocyanates which are cancer-fighting machines helping prevent DNA damage on the cellular level. Not sure how to cook with Brussels sprouts? Try this easy recipe by thinly slicing them into a slaw and then sauté with olive oil, garlic and balsamic vinegar.

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