Rocking your diet with seasonal fruits and veggies

Even if eating with the seasons may sound like the name of an alternative rock band, it’s wise nutritional counsel. Late summer and early autumn offer a bounty of fruits and vegetables that are rich in nutrients and vitamins, fresh, and often locally grown. Beyond nutritional value, supporting local produce helps the farming community by requiring fewer resources to grow, store and transport fruit and veggies. As the weather cools, it’s fun to incorporate seasonal varieties in meal planning. Many of us savor traditional autumn favorites like apples, pears, pumpkins, and certain kinds of squash, but there are many other healthy seasonal choices like beets, turnips, cranberries, dates, almonds, mushrooms, peppers, grapes, potatoes, and hearty greens like kohlrabi, collards, and spinach.

Pumpkins aren’t just for chucking or carving

The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions in overall health. Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well and reduces some degenerative aspects of aging. There are dozens of great, easy recipes online for using pumpkins as side dishes, soups, and breads, or for integrating it into salads, desserts, and much more.

An apple a day

While we all remember that popular refrain, apples are a perpetual favorite and just one part of a healthy diet. Though available year-round, they are especially crisp and flavorful when the newly harvested fall crop hits the market. Ranging in flavor from sweet to tart, locally grown U.S. apples are at their peak from September through November. There are over 100 varieties grown in the United States, and every single state, including Connecticut, has multiple orchards, so an apple-picking outing is usually within convenient reach.

Apples are delicious, easy to carry for snacking, low in calories, a natural mouth freshener, inexpensive, and a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber such as pectin actually helps to prevent cholesterol buildup in the lining of blood vessel walls, reducing the incident of atherosclerosis and heart disease. The insoluble fiber in apples provides bulk in the intestinal tract, holding water to cleanse and move food quickly through the digestive system.

It’s a good idea to eat apples with their skin. Almost half of the vitamin C content is just underneath the skin. Eating the skin also increases insoluble fiber content. Most of an apple’s fragrance cells are concentrated in the skin and as they ripen, the skin cells develop more aroma and flavor.

Here are some hints on how to purchase apples for maximum value:

  • Select firm apples with unbroken, well-colored skins and no bruises. Brown streaks on the skins (called scald) do not affect quality.
  • Apples will keep in a cool, dry place for up to one week. For longer storage, refrigerate in a plastic bag for four to six weeks.
  • Select types of apples based on how they will be used:  Raw (for eating out of hand and adding to salads); cooked (for applesauce, pies and other desserts); or baked whole.
  • All-purpose apples can be used for both eating raw and cooking. Varieties include: Braeburn, Cortland, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonathan, and McIntosh.
  • Red Delicious apples are strictly for eating raw and Rome Beauty apples are best for baking whole. Crisp, tart Macouns and Macintosh tend to be favorite eating apples, but every variety is healthy and often can be picked fresh at farms, or purchased at farm stands or in your local market.

Other seasonal veggies to consider

Sweet potatoes are a healthy complement to any meal. They are rich in carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, and supply about twice the recommended daily amount of vitamin A. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium and vitamin C. One medium baked sweet potato has only 103 calories.

Freshly dug sweet potatoes are uncured. They are good boiled, mashed, candied, fried and in many cooked dishes, but uncured potatoes do not bake successfully. Sweet potatoes must be cured two or three weeks before they will bake. Store cured potatoes in a cool, dry place where the temperature is about 55 F or 60 F. Do not store them in the refrigerator. Chilling the vegetable will give it a hard core and an undesirable taste. Well-matured, carefully handled and properly cured potatoes will keep for several months if the temperature and storage conditions are ideal.

Another healthy seasonal favorite, though not as popular, are beets, which are low in calories and fat, cholesterol free, and a good source of folates, a B vitamin which supports red blood cell production and helps prevent anemia. Fresh beets, in season from late summer through October, have a sweet flavor and tender texture. While traditionally a garnet-red color, today’s beets are available in golden-yellow, white and red-and-white-striped hues. In addition to serving them as a vegetable side dish, toss beets into autumn salads and soups for extra color and flavor.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!