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Foods to include in your diet this fall that pack a nutritious punch

November 19, 2013

Many of us tend to think of fruits and vegetables as summer foods, and then forget about them as the fall and winter seasons approach. But did you know that some of the most nutrient-packed produce peaks during these seasons?

Pumpkin

What comes to mind when you hear the word “pumpkin?” Pie? Jack-o-lantern? Thanksgiving? Although a member of the squash family and treated as a vegetable, pumpkin is technically a fruit because it grows on a vine and contains seeds. Its vibrant orange-colored flesh is due to the significant amount of carotenoids, specifically lutein and beta- and alpha- carotene. Carotenoids are not only converted into vitamin A, which is critical for our eye and immune health, but also act as antioxidants by filtering ultraviolet rays that can cause damage to our eyes’ lens and retina. Just 1 cup of the pumpkin’s flesh can provide 250% of your daily value of vitamin A (organic canned pumpkin can provide even more, about 750% DV), along with vitamin C, vitamin E, riboflavin, potassium, and copper.

Thinking outside the store-bought pumpkin pie box will help you include pumpkins in your diet year-round. Try this healthy pumpkin soup recipe provided by the Mayo Clinic. Pumpkin also works really well in raviolis, breads, muffins, and pancakes.

Whole pumpkin seeds are also edible, providing a high amount of magnesium, zinc, potassium, copper and protein. For a small handful (about 1 ounce) of roasted whole seeds, you are provided with five grams of plant-based protein. You may see pumpkin seeds in the grocery store already hulled and roasted under the name Pepitas, the Spanish culinary term meaning “little seed of squash.” Watch this video to learn how to roast your own whole pumpkin seeds at home! Experiment with different seasonings such a garlic powder, cinnamon and sugar, pumpkin pie spice, or even Cajun for a sweet or savory flavor. Add to salads, cereals, or a dried fruit and nut snack mix.

Brussels sprouts

A member of the cruciferous vegetable family, Brussels sprouts are slowly becoming more popular. They are considered great sources of folate, dietary fiber, magnesium, vitamin A and vitamin C. A ½ cup of cooked Brussels sprouts provides 80% of your daily value of vitamin C. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals due to the breakdown of the foods we eat and environmental factors, such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, and UV rays from the sun. Because of this, foods high in vitamin C have been linked to a reduced risk of esophageal cancer. In addition, vitamin C is required to make collagen for wound healing, and improves absorption of iron from plant-based foods.

Having trouble getting your kids to eat these baby cabbages? Try roasting them with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil, salt and garlic powder. This will caramelize the natural sugars, making them less bitter tasting.  Try this recipe at your Thanksgiving get together as a guilt-free, but hearty side dish.

Pears

Pears are among the most popular fruits in the world, and it’s no wonder why - they pack a nutritious punch! One medium sized pear offers six grams of fiber along with vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, and copper for a measly 100 calories! Studies have shown that the skin of pears contains at least three to four times as many phytonutrients as the flesh. These phytonutrients include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory flavonoids, and potentially anti-cancer phytonutrients.

The skin of the pear has also been show to contain about half of the pear's total fiber. It is recommended that women consume about 25 grams and men about 38 grams of fiber per day. Fiber not only helps to reduce blood cholesterol levels, but can also lower your risk of multiple cancers. Fiber can also assist with weight management by slowing digestion, making you feel fuller longer, and further reducing your risk of obesity and chronic diseases.

Pears make a great snack, as they are portable and easy to eat on the go. Their sweet, juicy, crunchy texture makes them a great addition to salads, yogurt, or cottage cheese. Visit this website for a wide variety of recipes that can be used all year round.

Cauliflower

Like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower is also a member of the cruciferous family that you’ll want to include it in your diet on a regular basis this fall. At a minimum, 1½ cups of cruciferous vegetables should be included in your diet two to three times per week. Glucosinolates are compounds found in all cruciferous vegetables. Lab studies have shown that these compounds, when broken down into isothiocyanates and indoles, decrease inflammation, inhibit enzymes that activate carcinogens, and stimulate enzymes that deactivate carcinogens. Studies also suggest these compounds promote apoptosis, or cell death, in cancer cells.

Many people have started using cauliflower for a healthier version of mashed potatoes. I typically like to use this recipe from Cooking Light® magazine. The curry powder gives a warm, savory flavor to a normally bland vegetable. Try mixing it up with some fresh cut carrots for additional sweetness.

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