Superfoods you should be eating this fall

As the seasons change, so do our produce offerings. Sure, we could bum ourselves out mourning the loss of summer fruits and veggies, but fall is packed with an abundance of delicious superfoods worth celebrating. As a dietitian and health coach, I help people work these foods into their diets so they can enjoy a wide range of flavors and reap the health benefits. Here are some fall superfoods you’ll want to put on your menu, plus some easy ideas for upgrading your eats this season.

Butternut squash

This winter squash boasts a wide range of health benefits, such as antioxidants vitamins A and C, which are key to supporting a healthy immune system this time of year. The beta-carotene that gives butternut squash that beautiful orange color is a powerful antioxidant. It’s also an awesome source of fiber. A one-cup serving of cooked butternut squash cubes provides about six grams — about 20 percent of your daily needs.

You can enjoy butternut squash pureed, steamed, and roasted. I love to toss cubed butternut squash with coconut or olive oil and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-45 minutes. Enjoy it as a side dish with meat or fish and other vegetables or toss it in a salad with roasted brussels sprouts, pecans, and a touch of blue cheese. Spiralized butternut squash is a fall-friendly twist on zoodles when those out-of season zucchini in the supermarket get sad.

Pumpkin

Shocker, I know. Basic, perhaps, but pumpkin earns its place on the fall superfood lineup for good reasons. It’s packed with potassium, antioxidants vitamins A and C, and betacarotene. It’s also a great way to add a creamy texture and filling fiber for minimal calories. A half-cup serving provides about three grams of fiber for only 40 calories.

Use pumpkin in sweet and savory dishes. I love it in cooked oatmeal, stirred into yogurt, or blended into smoothies, and it’s delicious in soups and chili. I’ve even added it to mac and cheese. Another of my favorite healthy hacks involving pumpkin is perfect for fall baking: mix two cups (or one 15-ounce can) of pumpkin puree with a box of brownie mix and bake according to package directions. The result? Delicious, fudgy brownies with such a rich taste, you’d never know they actually have some healthy stuff in there!

Sweet potato

While this root vegetable is delicious any time of year, it’s an especially great complement to other fall flavors. Aside from being packed with vitamin A and beta-carotene, sweet potatoes are also really high in potassium, a mineral that supports healthy muscle and nerve function. Complex carbs in sweet potatoes and other starchy veggies support efficient production of serotonin, a brain-regulating neurotransmitter that takes a hit in the fall and winter, when we have less sunlight.

Enjoy sweet potatoes baked, steamed, or mashed. For a quick and easy snack, or even breakfast, steam a sweet potato in the microwave and then split it open and eat with peanut or almond butter. Roasted sweet potatoes also pair deliciously with eggs. If you’re feeling adventurous, try sweet potato nachos. Simply slice your potato into thin rounds and toss with oil and spices. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until crispy, then top with your favorite nacho toppings and finish off under the broiler for a few minutes, if needed.

Cauliflower

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale (part of the Brassica family) are nutrition powerhouses. Research has shown that certain compounds in these vegetables like phytochemicals, polyphenols, glucosinolates, and antioxidants (vitamin C, E, and carotenoids, to name a few) may help fight cancer. While some is great, keep in mind that too much of a good thing is also possible. To avoid overthinking grams and ounces, aim for about one serving per day from this vegetable family.

Cauliflower comes in a rainbow of colors, so have fun trying them all. Enjoy raw, steamed, or roasted. While you could stick to olive oil and sea salt, try mixing up the spices and seasonings. Cauliflower rice is another great way to incorporate this superfood into your diet. Enjoy it as a sub for rice or toss is into salads, soups, and chilis. Frozen cauliflower is also delicious in smoothies. Sounds weird, but it actually lends a creamy, satisfying texture without that funky cauliflower taste.

Cranberries

My great-grandma, who lived to be almost 95, was a big believer in cranberry juice to keep urinary tract infections away. Turns out there’s actually some science to back this up. Cranberries, which are packed with powerful antioxidants, are also a great source of vitamin C and fiber. One 45-calorie cup provides about 20 percent of your vitamin C need and almost four grams of fiber to fill you up.

Cranberries are delicious cooked into oatmeal or baked into fall treats like breads and even cookies. You can also easily make your own cranberry sauce to use in place of jelly in your almond butter sandwich (or sweet potato toast) or as a topping for yogurt, pancakes, you name it. Cover cranberries in a saucepan with water and bring them to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer on low until they’ve cooked down and sweeten with honey to taste. For a change of pace, try cranberries in savory dishes with roasted root vegetables and flavors like pork and poultry.

Just keep it real with dried cranberries — use them as a garnish. Aside from being very calorie dense (and that suggested quarter-cup serving feels minuscule), many varieties also contain added sugar.

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