As the air cools and the days get shorter, it’s natural to reach for heartier foods, but we want to ensure they’re healthier, too. While many Americans adore the fall season, those fewer hours of daylight and colder temperatures can also lead to not-so-desirable consequences—like being less physically active or choosing unhealthy “comfort foods” that make us feel even more sluggish. It’s also a season when colds and flu circulate as people spend more time indoors, and, in more serious cases, the turn to autumn and winter can even usher in psychological changes such as seasonal depression.
For all of these reasons, it’s even more important right now to use food as your medicine—including to help prevent illness in the first place. Luckily, the fall’s bounty of in-season produce is chock full of options that provide boosts for the brain, mood, immunity, and more. From sweet potatoes to pumpkins, cauliflower to collard greens, autumn is a time to enjoy all of the diverse goodies that the earth provides. They don’t call it the harvest season for nothing! Here are 5 ideas to get your creative juices flowing all autumn long.Pumpkin’s benefits go beyond the flesh: Its seeds have been suggested through studies to be helpful in treating social anxiety and combating depression. Click To Tweet
My Top 5 Healthy Fall Vegetables
1. Brussel Sprouts
Sometimes called “little cabbages,” Brussels sprouts should also be known as little nutrient powerhouses. They’re not only tasty; they contain vitamin C, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber. The Harvard School of Public Health has reported that these cruciferous vegetables contain a phytochemical called glucosinolate, which is broken down by cooking and digestion into compounds called isothiocynates that have been studied for their anti-cancer attributes, such as protecting cells and preventing new blood vessels in tumor cells. Brussels sprouts can be easily prepared in the oven or under the broiler—as in my Blistered version—or shaved and eaten raw in a salad.
2. Sweet Potatoes
White potatoes aren’t the greatest vegetable choice—especially in the unhealthy forms Americans often consume, like French fries—but sweet potatoesredeem the category. They can feel just as indulgent (made into chips, they’re a fabulous base in nachos for this season’s football parties), but they also offer a plethora of nutrients, like vitamins A and C. They’ve even been found to cause lower fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels, making them a better choice for diabetic diets. The purple varieties serve up a load of antioxidants, too, so try a range of vibrant shades in your soups and roasts.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve caught on to the fact that kale is one of nature’s most nutrient-packed superfoods. As Americans hopped on the bandwagon with everything from kale chips to salads in recent years, they’ve enjoyed a bunch of benefits: in a single cup, 9% of the daily value of calcium, 206% of vitamin A, 134% of vitamin C (more than in a medium orange), and 684% of vitamin K, plus minerals like copper, potassium, manganese, and phosphorous. Even Time magazine has applauded kale for containing more iron, ounce for ounce, than beef. Though all leafy greens make a great diet addition, kale is a standout—and a versatile veggie to boot. Try it for making kale slaw, nutrient-rich salads, or chips.
Beets are a bona fide brain food. These brilliantly colored root veggies can be used from bulb to leaf, and they offer a delicious earthy flavor and many health benefits. One 2015 study that examined its characteristics as a “functional food” listed some of its selling points, including use in counteracting oxidative stress and inflammation, while improving endothelial function and cognition. Its high nitrate levels may favorably impact hypertension, atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, and dementia, while its rich phytochemical compounds, including ascorbic acid (vitamin C), carotenoids, phenolic acids, and flavonoids, plus high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities, point to usefulness for those with conditions like liver disease, arthritis, and cancer. Looking to reap some of these benefits? Start adding beets to your smoothies, or incorporate them into tortillas or meatballs, for an added health boost.
This seasonal favorite has become ubiquitous during the fall as marketers sell Pumpkin Spice everything. But instead of reaching for the sugar-packed beverages or sweets that often display this label, return to the source: plain ol’ pumpkin. Though it’s officially a fruit, not a vegetable, it offers a bevy of benefits, according to the Cleveland Clinic, providing more than 200% of daily vitamin A, lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health, potassium, vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants, and carotenoids. Here’s a surprising bonus: The benefits go beyond the flesh. The pumpkin’s seeds have been suggested through studies to be helpful in treating social anxiety and combating depression. A randomized study also found that pumpkin seed oil improves mood swings—and reduces hot flashes—in menopausal women, while women who consumed pumpkin seed oil showed a significant decrease in blood pressure, as their levels of HDL (good) cholesterol increased.
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