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Eating Seasonally: Autumn Harvest

Harvest the benefits of autumn produce this month! The Y is committed to keeping your family healthy from the inside out, which is why this week we’re highlighting popular fall “superfoods” you should add to your grocery list.

Did you know that buying in-season produce benefits not only your body, but your wallet and the environment? Seasonal produce is abundant because it’s at its peak growing condition, so it’s priced more economically than when out-of-season, giving you some more wiggle room in your grocery budget. Most grocery stores carry locally grown in-season produce, instead of it being shipped in from across the country or overseas. This reduces the number of miles your food has to travel, which means less pollution and fresher food for you. In-season produce is also less likely to be bleached, sprayed, waxed or irradiated.

Foods that are in-season are also at the peak of their nutritional value. Vitamins in produce naturally start to degrade as soon as they’re picked. Seasonal foods are consumed much closer to harvest, which mitigates the degradation of vitamins and nutrients that happens when stored for long periods of time. It’s also the perfect time to get any picky eaters to try new foods when they’re packed with the most flavor (ever eat an apple in February? Ugh!) So take advantage of the bounty that autumn offers by grabbing these popular fruits and veggies by the basket-full.

Apples: Eat the skin! Quercetin is the primary phytonutrient found in apples, and it’s far more concentrated in the skin than in the pulp. Quercetin is an antioxidant, which scavenges particles in the body known as free radicals, which damage cells. Apples are known benefiting our cardiovascular system, and lowering the risk of asthma and lung cancer.

Pears: Pears also contain many phytonutrients (like apples, they’re more concentrated in the skin), including antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and potentially anti-cancer cinnamic acids. Studies show that intake of certain flavonoid groups, 2 of which are found in all pears, has been associated with decreased risk of type 2 diabetes in both women and men.

Winter squash: Common varieties of winter squash include pumpkin (they’re not just for carving!) acorn, butternut, delicata, spaghetti, and kabocha. They are high in carotenoids, such as alpha- and beta-carotene, which give them their bright orange and yellow colors and have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Don’t forget about the seeds! Just like with pumpkin seeds, you can roast the seeds of other winter squashes for a snack packed with heart-healthy fats. The seeds contain the Essential Fatty Acid linoleic acid (omega-6, which is “essential” because your body can’t produce it), and oleic acid (omega-9: the same monounsaturated fatty acid abundant in olive oil).

Brussels Sprouts: An excellent source of Vitamin K (243% Daily Recommended Intake!) and Vitamin C (129%DRI). There is a notable connection between Brussels sprouts and cancer prevention, due to Brussels sprouts’ special nutrient support for the body’s detox, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory systems. This is due in part to their very high concentration of glucosinsates, (the highest of common cruciferous veggies), which are the chemical basis for a variety of cancer-protective substances. Try these recipes to get your kids to eat the dreaded “mini cabbages!”

Sweet Potatoes: With a whopping 214% of your DRI, sweet potatoes top the veggie chart for the highest percentage of Vitamin A, which is important for vision, immune support, and cell growth. Sweet potatoes are high in nutrients that act as antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and blood sugar-regulators. To get the most out of sweet potatoes’ beta-carotene content, eat them with a fat, which drastically increases our bodies’ ability to absorb this nutrient.

Fun fact: Sweet potatoes are not yams! Often confused, yams actually belong to a different plant family entirely. Don’t let the color fool you; many believe that red-skinned sweet potatoes are “yams,” but they are actually are just another variety of sweet potato. True yams are very starchy with bark-like skin, and are not carried in most stores. Grocery stores often label the “soft” variety of sweet potato as a “yam” to distinguish them from the “firm,” golden-fleshed sweet potato. Even if you think you’re buying a yam, you’re most likely buying a soft, orange-fleshed sweet potato! Who knew?

By: Tracy L. Nieradka