Cooler days are on the horizon as autumn approaches. Wave goodbye to summer! It’s sad to see summertime go, but you might not miss the hot, humid temperatures and the bead of sweat that forms on your brow when you go outside! Instead, those long days of high temperatures will be replaced with cool breezes and the turning of leaves, creating a visual display that will lift your spirits.
Autumn is also a good time to visit a local farmer’s market and choose among the many healthy produce options that come into season in the fall. When you buy locally and eat seasonally, you enjoy better flavor and superior nutrition. Plus, local produce often costs less. Those are benefits that are hard to argue with!
What are some of the better autumn produce options that are available this fall? Here are six to look for:
Autumn Produce Choice #1: Pomegranates
Pomegranates are an antioxidant-rich fruit that contains substantial quantities of vitamin C and beta-carotene, a compound that also helps fight inflammation. In fact, pomegranate juice outranks wine and green tea in terms of antioxidant power. Not surprisingly, some studies suggest that the pomegranate fruit may offer heart-health benefits by reducing inflammation. We now know that inflammation is a factor in triggering cardiovascular disease.
Pomegranate may have other heart health benefits as well. Small studies show that pomegranate juice decreases arterial stiffness and lowers blood pressure. Other studies show it may reduce the accumulation of plaque within arteries, but more research is needed. One precaution. Like grapefruit juice, pomegranate juice can impact the metabolism of certain medications, particularly statins. If you take a statin and drink pomegranate juice, the statin can stay in your system longer and potentially lead to a higher blood level over time. So, don’t drink pomegranate juice if you’re taking medications without consulting your physician first.
Autumn Produce Choice #2: Pumpkin
What would autumn be without the familiar sight of pumpkins and their eerie smiles? Pumpkin makes great jack-o-lanterns and pumpkin pie, but those aren’t the best ways to get the health benefits that pumpkin offers. What makes pumpkin a healthy addition to the table? For one, pumpkin is rich in compounds called carotenoids.
An example of carotenoids that you’re familiar with is beta-carotene, the carotenoid that gives carrots its brilliant orange color. Carotenoids have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. When you consume carotenoid-rich food, these compounds accumulate in the light-sensitive tissue called the retina and they absorb ultraviolet light. By capturing damaging ultraviolet light, they may lower the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts, two diseases that destroy healthy vision.
To get the benefits scoop out the interior of a pumpkin. Then, roast it at 350 degrees F. for 80 minutes or so. Once roasted, puree the pumpkin in a blender. You can add pureed pumpkin to hot cereal and smoothies. Don’t forget to save and roast the seeds! Pumpkin seeds are high in minerals, particularly zinc and magnesium and an excellent source of fiber.
Autumn Produce Choice #3: Kale
Dark, leafy greens are fall favorites and it would be hard to find a more nutrient-dense vegetable than kale. Kale is a cruciferous vegetable, a veggie in the same family as cabbage and broccoli. Not only is it an abundant source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant, and precursor to vitamin A, but kale is also rich in another antioxidant vitamin, vitamin C. However, you lose some of the vitamin C when you cook it for a long time, let it sit around, or expose it to light. Eat kale quickly and steam it lightly. Leafy greens, like kale, are also a good source of carotenoids. We already mentioned another carotenoid-rich fruit, pumpkin. The chlorophyll in greens camouflages the rich, orange color that denotes the presence of carotenoids. But, rest assured, it’s still there!
Autumn Produce Choice #4: Brussels Sprouts
They’re yummy when you roast them! Brussels sprouts are a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables, a category of veggies known for their anti-cancer chemicals. These chemicals called glucosinolates are activated by the body to form sulforaphane, a class of chemicals with potential anti-cancer benefits. Brussels sprouts are also an abundant source of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant vitamin. One serving of Brussels sprouts supplies almost enough vitamin C to meet the day’s requirements. However, cooking them reduces some of their vitamin C content. In addition, these “mini cabbages” contain substantial quantities of folic acid and potassium.
Autumn Produce Choice #5: Artichokes
Artichokes are one of the highest fiber veggies you can put on the table. That’s important because most Americans get about half the recommended amount of fiber. Plus, artichokes contain substantial quantities of folic acid and are a good source of magnesium and potassium, two important minerals for heart health. Not sure how to prepare them? Try steaming them and adding a squirt of lemon juice. They also taste delicious oven roasted or grilled.
Autumn Produce Choice #6: Beets
Beets get their brilliant maroon color from phytonutrients called betalains. These compounds are now the focus of considerable research into their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Some studies show that beets and beetroot juice can lower blood pressure and even improve exercise endurance. Plus, beets are rich in folate and potassium as well. Beets seem to exert their blood-pressure lowering benefits by causing the inner wall of arteries to produce more nitric oxide, a gas that dilates the artery. This may also explain how beetroot juice potentially increases exercise endurance. When arteries produce more nitric oxide, it boosts oxygen delivery to working muscles. In addition, research shows they may be beneficial for people with heart failure as well. So, enjoy beets this fall!
The Bottom Line
Take advantage of the health benefits of this autumn fruits and vegetables. Look for them at your local Farmer’s Market. When you buy local and seasonal, you enjoy maximum freshness, taste, and nutritional benefits, as the produce hasn’t been shipped as far and sat around as long. Ready to head to a Farmer’s market?
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