By Barbara Utendorf
The fall season features a bounty of health-restoring whole foods. Some of my favorites include apples and grapes, along with vegetables from the Brassica family, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, squash and pumpkins, carrots, fennel, beets, onions, and nuts and seeds. Getting nutrients from whole foods offers the advantage of receiving synergistic co-factors and “helper nutrients” that increase nutrient assimilation. Foods in their natural state also provide a diverse array of nutrients, beyond those most commonly sought or recognized.
Below are some of the details regarding nutrient content that make these fall standouts worth stocking in your kitchen, not just because you love them but because they’re incredibly healthy for you.
Fruits supply abundant vitamins and minerals plus antioxidants and phytonutrients. Antioxidants help buffer the negative effects of toxins while phytonutrients are beneficial compounds from plants (phyto = plant) that provide a range of benefits. Fruits also provide water for cellular rehydration.
Apples are a particularly healthy fall fruit containing good sources—meaning, they provide at least 10% of the recommended daily value (DV)—of both vitamin C and fiber. Vitamin C supports immune function, collagen production, the absorption of iron from foods and is needed to produce serotonin for optimal mood and sleep. Apples contain pectin, a fiber that benefits digestive health by removing waste and toxins and cardiovascular health by decreasing total and LDL cholesterol. Apples also provide polyphenols—anti-inflammatory compounds that help prevent cancer and neurodegenerative conditions as well as cardiovascular disease (CVD) via decreased oxidation of fats that could clog arteries.
With high concentrations of nutrients in the skin, be sure to eat the whole apple for maximum benefit.
Grapes—another fruit with extensive health benefits—contain abundant phytonutrients including resveratrol, believed to be one of the most important cardioprotective and restorative phytonutrients studied thus far. Specifically, resveratrol may help protect against CVD by reducing oxidation of cholesterol and controlling platelet aggregation. Moreover, grapes increase nitric oxide levels in the blood, helping regulate clotting by facilitating blood vessel dilation. Resveratrol has also been linked to increased expression of genes associated with longevity and reduced cancer risk.
For maximum benefit, choose darker grapes and eat the skin and seeds.
The Brassica family, including cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kale and mustard greens, are great to enjoy this time of the year. These foods commonly provide high sources—at least 20% of the DV—of vitamins A, C, E and K and good sources of B1, B2, B5, B6 and B9, plus the minerals magnesium, calcium, iron and potassium. B-vitamins are important for energy production as well as a healthy nervous system and skin.
Mustard greens offer impressive cancer prevention and cholesterol-lowering properties—along with collards, turnip greens and kale—and their high vitamin A content supports healthy eyes and skin. These greens also contain readily assimilable calcium plus magnesium, vitamin K and silica that together make them ideal for healthy teeth and bones. Brassica foods also provide sulfur compounds that help restore cellular health.
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of carotenoids (antioxidants), containing nearly 100% of the recommended DV, plus a high source of the B-vitamins 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and biotin plus vitamin C and potassium. This combination of nutrients plus inherent anti-inflammatory and blood sugar-regulating properties contribute to the health-restoring nature of sweet potatoes. The potassium in both sweet and white potatoes is associated with improved blood pressure regulation and enhanced kidney function. The vitamin B6 in both is necessary for optimal nerve cell communication as well as conversion of homocysteine, a compound in the blood that in excess has been associated with CVD.
For optimal nutritional benefit eat the skin along with the flesh.
Winter squash and pumpkins likewise provide high sources of vitamin A as carotenoids plus vitamins B6 and C and good sources of vitamins B2, B5, B9 and K and potassium. The antioxidant content is impressive, featuring anti-inflammatory benefits and blood sugar-regulating properties.
Carrots also contain valuable carotenoids, contributing to reduced risk of cancer and CVD while benefitting ear and eye health. In the same botanic family, fennel contains compounds that also reduce inflammation and cancerous activity.
Beets roots and greens contain unique phytonutrients that impede tumor growth and beet greens further contain cardioprotective antioxidants.
Onions have potent cancer-fighting, anti-microbial and cholesterol- and blood pressure-lowering compounds, plus quercetin and vitamin C—natural antihistamines that help reduce symptoms of allergies.
And this fall, don’t overlook the roots of dandelion and chicory, which when roasted, dried and ground, can be used as a coffee addition or substitute, supporting the digestion of fats while simultaneously providing antioxidants.
Nuts & Seeds
Winter squash and pumpkin seeds contain high sources of manganese and magnesium plus zinc and iron while sunflower seeds, available fresh in the fall from stores and markets, contain high sources of vitamin E, selenium and vitamins B1, B3, B6 and B9. Manganese is integral to making internal antioxidants and in skin health, and zinc is important in immunity.
Nuts such as walnuts and hazelnuts provide healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamin E that benefit the cardiovascular system with black walnuts in particular—growing wild across Ohio and available in the fall in farmers markets and stores—containing high sources of omega-3 essential fats. Nuts are also typically good sources of selenium, a mineral that plays a key role in detoxification and boosting immunity.
To find farmers markets near you, enter your town or zip code on the website localharvest.org. If you are interested in learning more about the information in this article, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.