by Rachel Gore
all marks the beginning of the holiday season, and from sneaking some candy on Halloween to feasting with family on Thanksgiving Day, it is without a doubt one of the best times of the year for food lovers. Consequently, it is also the time of year where many of us find it harder to make healthy choices. A 2016 New England Journal of Medicine study found that in the U.S., people’s weight begins rising throughout October and November and peaks shortly after Christmas. Though the average holiday season weight gain is just around 1.3 pounds, it takes an average of five months to lose.
A fear of gaining weight shouldn’t prevent you from indulging in your favorite treats from time to time, but it is still important to fuel your body with nutritious, healthy snacks and meals. Luckily, there are a number of fall-themed superfoods that can help you do just that while letting you enjoy the flavors of the fall season. While there is no scientific definition of what falls under the category of “superfoods”, superfoods in general, describe foods with high amounts of vitamins and minerals that support good health. Due to their health-boosting properties, superfoods benefit people’s immune systems by promoting physical health and fighting disease. Here are some fall superfoods to try out in 2019:
Fall is the perfect time of year to pick a freshly-grown apple right off of a tree. Apples are packed with important nutrients that help keep people healthy, hence the widely-known saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber content. Fiber helps to slow digestion, which makes you feel fuller after you eat. It can help with diarrhea, constipation and lessen the effects of acid reflux. The combination of high soluble and insoluble fiber content along with the antioxidant properties of apples can decrease the risk of cancer, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
Apples are a source of flavonoids, which are a variety of biologically active compounds found in plants that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Registered dietician and Nutrition Director of Good Housekeeping Jacyln London says that one flavonoid, “procyanidin, a type of antioxidant found in apples, has been found to lower LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol. The bacteria in the colon also digests the bioactive compounds in our Fijis and Macintoshes and converts them into healthful components used by our bodies.” The flavonoids and fiber in apples come with the bonus of protecting human cell DNA from oxidative damage, which can cause cancer.
The health benefits of apples are highest in their purest form: as a whole apple with the skin. So, while fall brings cravings for apple cider donuts, apple pies and other homemade goodies, consider occasionally swapping those out with a freshly sliced apple topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon. With dozens of types of apples ranging from sweet to tart, you are bound to find a fall favorite.
Butternut squash is a delicious fall seasonal fruit that often goes overlooked. Its vibrant orange color is indicative of its high beta carotene content, which is an antioxidant pigment that turns into vitamin A in your body. In just a one-cup serving of cooked butternut squash, there is over four times the vitamin A you need in one day, meaning a little goes a long way (don’t worry about “overdosing” on vitamin A—eating a cup of squash is highly unlikely to cause negative health effects). Vitamin A promotes healthy vision, skin, bones and other tissues. It also contains high levels of vitamin C, potassium, iron, riboflavin and magnesium.
Butternut squash can be steamed, boiled or roasted and added to stews or mashed with yams. If you’re in the mood for a sweeter treat, try tossing butternut squash in cinnamon then roasting it.
Cranberry sauce may be a Thanksgiving dinner staple, but cranberries themselves are a nutritious superfood that can benefit you all year. Cranberries are packed with antioxidants that help fight disease, have vitamin C and fiber and are only 45 calories per cup. On top of that, they are well-known for preventing urinary tract infections and can reduce the risk of heart disease, aid oral health and fight against inflammation.
Frozen, fresh and dried cranberries are a much more nutritious option than cranberry juice cocktails packed with sugar, so try to prioritize healthier options. Instead of juice, consider sneaking cranberries into your diet by using them for sauces and relishes, adding them dried to salads or oatmeal or incorporating them into healthy homemade baked goods.
The arrival of fall means pumpkin spice season has officially begun. In its raw form, pumpkin is a low-calorie superfood packed with many beneficial nutrients. Pumpkin is particularly high in Vitamin A, which is known for immune-boosting powers. Pumpkin seeds are high in magnesium, which helps bodily functions like energy creation and nervous system regulation. Pumpkin is also high in potassium, antioxidants, vitamin C and fiber, which have all been linked to good heart health. To reap the health benefits, consider introducing pumpkin seeds into your diet as a healthy, nutrient-packed snack.
This doesn’t mean that all pumpkin foods are good for you, though: many pumpkin-spice favorites, like pastries and lattes, are packed with added sugars and high in calories. According to Adi Wyshogrod, a San Diego-based Registered Dietician Nutritionist, it is important to be mindful of the pumpkin spice options you indulge in: “if you’re a pumpkin spice latte lover, keep in mind that small can have over 300 calories and almost 40 grams of sugar. Instead, try grabbing a coffee with one to two pumps of pumpkin spice syrup or asking to swap the milk for a plant-based or lower calorie option.”
This is only a sampling of fall superfoods that you can incorporate into your diet to reap health benefits this season. Other fall vegetables and fruits with superfood-like properties include Brussels sprouts, pears, cauliflower, sweet potatoes and pomegranates. Making recipes using healthy spices like cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg is another way to fulfill your craving for autumn flavors in a healthy way. Experiment with different options to make this season one filled with delicious and nutritious fall-themed treats.