Favorite Healthy Fall Foods
Eating fall foods in the autumn months used to be something that required little thinking.
We ate seasonally because we had to — food was grown and sold close to home, limiting our options to what was harvested from the farm down the road. And though modern food processing and distribution have made finding a summer strawberry in November pretty easy to do, everyday chefs and restaurant cooks alike are reaching more and more for pumpkins, figs and other fall foods to be the stars of their autumn dishes.
Choosing seasonal fruits and vegetables ensures that produce is at peak ripeness and packs the most nutrients and flavor. It is also a green choice: Locally-grown produce requires less transportation, causing less of an impact on the environment.
Another bonus? Since it’s so readily available, in-season produce is affordable—farmers and grocers have lots of it, and they want to be sure to sell it to you before it goes bad.
Packed with filling fiber and the disease-fighting antioxidant quercetin, apples are the quintessential fall fruit. In North America, apples are in season from late summer to early winter. Apples are on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen Plus list, which means they contain a high level of pesticide residues, so try to buy apples that are organic, and always wash them thoroughly before eating. Enjoy them chopped into salads; cooked and pureed into sauce; shredded into muffin batter and of course on their own as a satisfying snack.
The beta-carotene in carrots helps promote sharp vision and healthy skin and strengthens the immune system. And while these roots don’t just grow in the cool months, lower temps make their flavor sweeter and more robust. Look for orange, yellow, red and purple carrots at your local farmer’s market. Try pureeing or dicing them into warm soups; grating a few into pasta sauce; juicing them into marinades or beverages or enjoying them raw, dipped in hummus or peanut butter.
Best known as a dried fruit, fresh dates are an autumn specialty—just be sure to eat them when they’re ripe, or suffer the bitter consequences. Literally. Dates are good sources of dietary fiber and a variety of minerals (like manganese) which play an important role in how you metabolize food. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on some fresh dates, try stuffing them with mascarpone cheese and chopped pistachios. Dried dates make a delicious addition to oatmeal and whole grains like quinoa and whole wheat couscous.
A good source of calcium, magnesium and energy-boosting iron, figs are also rich in fiber. While their skins can vary from purple to pink or light brown, the flesh inside is usually a juicy crimson color. Choose figs with firm, smooth outsides that feel relatively heavy for their size. For a salty-sweet (not to mention protein-rich) snack, cut open a fig and stuff it with goat cheese and chopped almonds. They’re also delicious in salads and sliced on top of Greek yogurt drizzled with honey as dessert.
Unrelated to the globe-shaped, heart-centered artichokes many of us are more familiar with, Jerusalem artichokes (also known as sunchokes) have a consistency similar to a potato and taste like water chestnuts. Each one cup serving has 650 milligrams of potassium, making it a perfect recovery food after your Turkey Trot race or fall hike. These veggies are also an excellent source of prebiotics, a form of fiber that feeds the beneficial probiotic bacteria in your gastrointestinal system. Peel or scrub them well to remove the outer layer of dirt, and then shred them into a slaw. Slices are great for hummus dipping, too.
Available in several varieties such as curly and Tuscan, kale is a good source of bone-building calcium, not to mention heart-healthy potassium and fiber. No matter what type of kale you choose, pick a bunch that is deep in color with small to medium leaves. Avoid bunches with brown or yellow leaves. Sauté kale with garlic as you would spinach; use it as a green base for smoothies or try kale chips: Rinse, chop, drizzle with oil, and bake at 275°F for about 20 minutes or until crisp (toss gently after 10 minutes). Season with salt and pepper or herbs and enjoy as a crunchy, savory snack.
A staple in any kitchen, onions are a very good source of vitamin C, LDL-lowering quercetin (especially the red varieties) and filling fiber. Look for onions that are dry and firm with bright, smooth outer skins, and store them in a cool, well-ventilated place. Skewer onions onto shish kabobs; sauté them into pasta dishes; or chop them raw and mix up a fresh autumnal salad with apples and carrots.
In addition to being a great source of fiber, pears also pack a healthy dose of potassium, which helps strengthen bones and regulate blood pressure, among other roles. Choose pears that are firm to touch, but eat them once they yield to gentle pressure. Try baking pears instead of apples for a deliciously comforting fall dessert.
There is strong research to suggest that this antioxidant-rich fall fruit can benefit the heart by preventing, and even reversing, plaque buildup in the arteries. Choose one that is plump, round and heavy for its size. Pomegranate juice stains, so when you’re ready to eat it, try carefully slicing it in half and then submerging the cut fruit in a bowl that’s been filled halfway with water. With the fruit submerged, separate the red arils (seeds) from the membrane. This helps keep the juice from spraying all over you (and your kitchen). Sprinkle the seeds in salads, or eat them on their own as a crunchy, tart snack.
Loaded with carotenoids, which give this fruit its orange color, each serving of pumpkin packs a vision-protecting punch, along with fiber and vitamin C. And don’t toss those seeds — they are a great source of muscle-building protein (one quarter cup contains as much as one egg). Choose a pumpkin that feels heavy for its size and store in a cool, dark place. Think outside the box when it comes to using pumpkin. It tastes great as the base of a soup or fall pasta sauce; or roasted and tossed with dried cranberries and toasted pecans or baked into quick breads or healthier cookies.