This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
These nourishing fall foods are packed with the nutrition your body needs to get through the cold and dark months ahead.
This quintessential symbol of fall is not just for decoration — it is one of the most nutrient dense foods of the season. For a mere 49 calories per cup of mashed pumpkin, you get large amounts of potassium, vitamin A and alpha- and beta-carotenes. Studies have shown a positive correlation between potassium intake and bone mineral density; increased potassium intake is also linked to a decreased risk of stroke. Another nutrient found in pumpkins, beta-cryptoxanthin, is associated with a reduced risk of lung and colon cancers, as well as rheumatoid arthritis. If that wasn’t enough, pumpkins are also a rich source of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and fiber.
And don’t forget the seeds! Pumpkin seeds contain magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. Roasting the seeds actually increases their mineral, protein, fiber, zinc and selenium content. They are a good source of manganese which is important for growth, reproduction, wound healing, brain function and the metabolism of sugar, insulin and cholesterol. Roasted pumpkin seeds could also help boost your mood — they contain tryptophan which is needed to produce serotonin in the brain.
These root vegetables get their deep color from betacyanin, a potent cancer fighter. Beets also contain iron, folate and betaine which work together to reduce homocysteine levels in the blood. Homocysteine is a byproduct of natural metabolic processes in the body, but high levels of homocysteine can damage blood vessels and lead to heart disease, stroke and dementia. Though often discarded, beet leaves are a good source of calcium, iron and vitamins A and C.
Apples have pectin, a soluble fiber that lowers LDL cholesterol and helps regulate blood sugar. They also contain boron, an energizing mineral that also helps build bones. Red apples, as with most colorful fruits and vegetables, contain more antioxidants and phenols. Apples have been a long time member of the “Dirty Dozen,” the 12 most pesticide ridden produce, so be sure to buy organic.
The most popular winter squashes, acorn and butternut — and pumpkin, but that’s been covered separately — are a great addition to any meal. They are a huge source of fiber (1 cup of acorn has 9 grams), and because of their high water content, they are low in calories and very filling. Acorn squash is good source of potassium, (896 mg per cup) and iron. Butternut is high in vitamin A, which helps stimulate the immune system, as well as alpha- and beta-carotenes, and beta-cryptoxanthin.
Kale is one of the top most antioxidant rich vegetables. Since it is a cabbage, it also contains a large amount of cancer fighting phytochemicals, including indoles which studies have found to help protect against breast, cervical and colon cancers. A great source of calcium, iron, vitamins A, C and K, and eye protecting carotenoids, kale is definitely a superfood you’ll want to include in your diet. Sadly, kale took the number 12 spot on the 2011 Dirty Dozen list, so try to buy organic to avoid pesticide residues.
Probably best known for their antibacterial properties that help prevent urinary tract infections, studies have shown that these same properties can help prevent gum disease and ulcers. Cranberries are high in fiber, low in sugar (when raw), high in antioxidants and phenols. Cranberries have been shown to have anticancer properties as well. Try adding cranberries to smoothies to get all of the amazing benefits of these little berries.
Similar to many of the other vegetables on this list, sweet potatoes are high in fiber, potassium, vitamin A and beta-carotene. They also contain the phytochemical, quercetin, which has anti-inflammatory properties, and the antioxidant chlorogenic acid. Chlorogenic acid can help slow the release of sugar into the blood stream. Sweet potatoes are very nutrient dense, with only about 100 calories per medium-sized potato. Remember to eat the skin to get all of the fiber and nutrients the sweet potato has to offer.
Another heavy hitter in the vitamin A department, carrots also contain calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and a good amount of fiber. Carrots are high in carotenoids which can help prevent bladder, cervical, prostrate, colon and esophageal cancers. Two of these carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, work together to help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. Since vitamin A and carotenoids are fat-soluble, eating them with a little fat will help your body better absorb these nutrients.
Part of the Allium family, which also includes leeks, garlic and shallots, onions contain a diverse array of sulfur compounds that are a nutritional powerhouse and offer many benefits including the lowering of blood pressure and blood lipids. Many studies have found onions to protect against cancer, including stomach, prostate and esophageal cancers. Other recent studies have linked onions to strong bones. Onions have anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antiviral properties and are high in antioxidants. They contain the phytochemical, quercetin, whose anti-inflammatory properties can help relieve allergies, asthma and hay fever. There are many types of onions with diverse concentrations of chemical nutrients; generally, the stronger tasting onions are more nutrient dense.
Bowden, J., (2007). The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: The Surprising, Unbiased, Truth About What You Should Eat and Why. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press.
Light, L., (2006).What to Eat: The Ten Things You Really Need to Know to Eat Well and Be Healthy!. New York: McGraw-Hill.