Like it or not, fall is here. While some people can’t wait to indulge in pumpkin spice everything, others find the transition from summer to fall particularly difficult. It’s not only the gradual loss of heat and light, but also the shift from fresh garden greens and vine-ripened tomatoes to greenhouse-grown vegetables trucked in from far-flung places.
Sareena Oncea, a registered dietitian and the diabetes prevention program coordinator at Providence Health & Services in Portland, Ore., believes the transition is easier to handle if we choose our food wisely. “One of the most important things to do when moving into the next season is to continue eating a variety of colorful produce,” she says. “Research is growing around the link between eating more nutritious foods and your psychological well-being. Currently we know that colorful produce is filled with a variety of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants that are linked to boosting your immune system and helping your body work best. Many times when people feel their best physically, they feel better mentally as well.”
Berries and melons in the fall
Don’t assume that berry season ends with summer. Huckleberries, for example, which grow wild throughout northwestern regions of the U.S., are available as late as mid-September. And some years you can still find ripe blackberries after August. However, if that’s not an option in your neck of the woods, it’s a good time to transition to frozen berries. And because frozen fruits maintain their phytonutrients and fiber, you’re not losing out on the nutritional perks. But watch out for added sugars.
Melons are an excellent transitional food, too. They’re colorful and sweet, for starters. They don’t have as much fiber as berries, but they have plenty of vitamins, including vitamin C, to help boost your immune system.
Here are a few other colorful fruits that are fresh and available in the fall:
Love all shades of green
After the fall equinox leafy green vegetables are also plentiful. While some types of lettuce thrive in summer heat, others such as red-leaf varieties are cold-hardy, which means they’ll grow in gardens and still be available at farmer’s markets through fall. Swiss chard, kale, arugula, spinach and mache also grow in cooler temperatures.
If you’ve ever been to a Halloween pumpkin patch you know there are ample varieties of squash available, and they’re all excellent sources of fiber and nutrients, including vitamins A and C, magnesium and other antioxidant compounds. You’ll also find an abundance of fresh nutrient-rich Brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots, beets and sweet potatoes.
Best way to preserve nutrients
“The way you prepare vegetables affects their nutritional value,” Sareena says. She recommends eating them raw, roasted, steamed or blanched. “Limit boiling or cooking vegetables in large amounts of fat. If you want to use fat, aim for a plant-based oil and just use a little drizzle,” she says.
Cooking some vegetables, such as carrots and tomatoes, increases their health benefits. “Cooking carrots increases the beta-carotene that’s available. But if you prefer raw carrots, dip them in a dressing or hummus. Adding a little fat to raw vegetables helps you absorb the nutrients better,” she says.
Frozen vegetables are a good choice when fewer fresh options exist, but look at labels to ensure there’s no added sodium. That applies to canned foods, as well. Look for canned vegetables with no added sodium. Look for fruits canned in “lite syrup” or its own juice. Rinse canned fruits and vegetables before serving to remove additional sugar and salt.
Recipes and resources
Sareena recommends a number of resources to her clients, including the website, Fruits & Veggies More Matter, which has tons of recipes and tips. Here’s one of Sareena’s favorite fall recipes:
Lightly pickled fall root vegetables
1½ cups white wine vinega
1¾ cups water (or substitute ⅔ cups white wine, ⅔ cups water)
2½ tablespoons sugar (optional)
½ bay leaf
4 thyme sprigs
½ dried cayenne pepper or a pinch of dried chile flakes
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
2 whole cloves
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
A generous pinch of salt, to taste (the brine should be just slightly salty)
2 bunches carrots, peeled and sliced
2 shallots, sliced
1 bunch small turnips, peeled and sliced
1 to 2 cloves garlic
1 large fennel bulb (or 2 medium), sliced
- Prepare the pickling solution by combining all the brine ingredients and bringing them to a boil.
- Cook each type of vegetable separately in this boiling brine, scooping them out when they are cooked but still a little crisp. Set them aside to cool. Once all the vegetables are cooked and cooled, and the pickling solution has cooled to room temperature, combine the vegetables, transfer to jars or another covered container, cover with pickle brine, and refrigerate.
Source: Alice Waters, Chez Panisse
If you want help choosing foods that are right for you, consider getting advice from a professional. Use our multistate directory to find a Providence dietitian in your area.