Summer is (unfortunately) officially over. Along with those warm sunny days, some of my favorite foods are gone too – Niagara peaches, Quebec’s wild blueberries, and of course farm-fresh local sweetcorn.
To be honest, however, I’m looking forward to the coming autumn. It is a time of year to change our diets and rediscover nutritious foods that are now in season.
Eating locally produced food (compared to imported) is cheaper, supports your community, and is better for the environment (e.g. how far did these berries have to travel out of season to get to your grocery store?).
Plus, eating in season means enjoying foods when their flavors and nutrients are at their peak.
If they’re not on your radar just yet, consider adding the following nutrient-dense foods to your fall menu.
This peanut-shaped winter squash is an exceptional source of carotenoids, antioxidants believed to protect against cognitive decline and heart disease. For example, one cup of cooked pumpkin provides 9.3 milligrams of beta-carotene, three times the amount experts recommend daily for preventing chronic illness.
Butternut squash is also high in alpha-carotene, a member of the carotenoid family that has been linked to cancer prevention. And one cup of cooked butternut squash has a decent amount of fiber (6.5 grams) and potassium (582 milligrams) along with folic acid, calcium, and magnesium.
Enjoy roasted butternut squash as a side dish; I like to season it with cumin seeds or Ras el Hanout, a delicious North African spice mix.
Add toasted butternut squash cubes to green salads, whole grain bowls, burritos, chilli, and stews. Or mix it with a creamy pumpkin soup with apple or pear, also in season.
Puree the cooked butternut squash and freeze for later use. Add it to smoothies, pasta sauces, and muffin and pancake batter.
Also called sunchokes, these nutty-tasting, crispy brown-skinned tubers (not exactly artichokes and also not related to Jerusalem) are an excellent source of inulin, a prebiotic fiber that nourishes beneficial gut microbes. Inulin promotes digestive health, improves mineral absorption and increases the feeling of satiety.
Jerusalem artichoke is also high in iron, providing 2.5 milligrams per half a cup sliced.
Prepare Jerusalem artichokes like potatoes or parsnips. Serve pureed, roasted, sautéed, grilled, boiled, fried with vegetables or mixed in soups. Or enjoy them raw in salads, sliced or grated.
Because of its inulin content, Jerusalem artichokes can cause gas in some people with irritable bowel syndrome.
This root vegetable owes its deep purple color to betalains, phytochemicals that act as antioxidants, reduce inflammation and support the liver’s detoxification system.
Beets are also a very good source of folate, a B vitamin that the body uses to make DNA and red blood cells.
Add grated raw beets to salads and vegetarian sandwiches or wraps. Roast beets along with other root vegetables like beets, carrots, and parsnips.
Fry the precooked beetroot in olive oil with a dash of freshly squeezed orange juice and orange peel. Or make beetroot chips by mixing thinly sliced beetroot with olive oil and then baking until crispy.
Also use the green beet tops. Half a cup cooked is a great source of potassium and carotenoids, including beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and lutein, a phytochemicals that are beneficial for brain health and vision.
Sockeye Salmon (canned)
British Columbia’s sockeye salmon season (June through August) is over, but canned (and frozen) sockeye salmon are available year round.
Known for its heart-healthy omega-3 fats, salmon is also rich in vitamin D, a nutrient that strengthens the immune system and supports bone health.
Salmon, especially sockeye salmon, is one of the few foods that offers a generous supply of vitamin D. 3 ounces of canned sockeye salmon contains 715 International Units (IU), more than Health Canada (600 IU) recommends for people aged 1 to 70 years. (Older adults are advised to consume 800 IU per day.)
Three ounces of sockeye salmon is also an excellent source of vitamin B12 (4.7 micrograms) and calcium (197 milligrams), and provides half a day of selenium, an antioxidant mineral that protects immune cells from free radical damage.
Use canned sockeye salmon to make salmon burgers and salmon cakes, toss in green salads or grain bowls, or add to scrambled eggs or frittata. For a change from tuna, enjoy a salmon salad sandwich.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based nutritionist in private practice, is the director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD
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