Autumn and winter eating is something to look forward to. It is the ideal time to savor comfort food, and some of the best is at its peak when the weather turns cold. Pumpkins, pomegranates, nuts, beets and sweet potatoes are all at their best. Apart from pumpkin pie, which is a perennial favorite, winter squash appears in many forms, and whether you choose butternut or acorn squash, they can be a wonderful addition to stews, soups and curries in addition to being delicious simply roasted on their own or stuffed. All these autumn foods are packed with vitamins and minerals and many provide a special bonus in the form of antioxidants. They help us to get through the long cold days of winter in excellent health.
The European settlers who came to the new world had not seen anything like an autumn squash before. Squash is a word that originates from “askutasquash,” a word used by the Narragansett Indians. Even now, the variety of shapes and colors is impressive. Winter squash consists not only of carbohydrates, it also features prodigious amounts of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene and a low calorie count. Their high levels of potassium and their easy digestibility make them a perfect choice for comforting and healthy fall and winter cooking.
Pomegranates are becoming ever more popular, and whereas just a few years ago it was rare to find one even in a gourmet food store, you now can often find them in your local supermarket. Low in calories, with no fat or cholesterol, pomegranates (both as a fruit and as a juice) are an important superfood in your health arsenal due to their antioxidant polyphenols. They are high in vitamin C (17% of your daily requirement), vitamin K and are high in fiber. Studies have shown pomegranate juice to be effective in reducing the risk of heart disease and lowering blood pressure, and it also boasts antiviral and antibacterial properties. Although drinking the juice provides many benefits, you get the most from eating the fruit itself (the seeds only). The fiber benefits come from ingesting the entire seed (called an aril).
Although nuts are high in calories, if you can manage to allow yourself only a handful each day, it can provide significant benefits to your health. Two studies done on women found that women who ate nuts more than four times per week had a 40% lower risk of dying from heart disease. They’re good for men too: results from the Physician’s Health Study showed that men who ate nuts two or more times per week were less likely to suffer sudden cardiac death. They contain healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, the kind that raise levels of “good” cholesterol, have abundant antioxidants in the form of selenium and vitamin E and are high in fiber. One or two ounces a day is enough to keep you healthy and provide a tasty snack when you get the munchies.
Most people are unaware that the humble beet is an aphrodisiac. The boron it contains is important in the production of sex hormones, so think of incorporating a beet dish into your next romantic meal! Both the greens and root of the beet are very healthy, the greens providing healthy amounts of calcium and vitamin K to keep bones strong, vitamin A to maintain good eye health, and plenty of iron and vitamin C. The betalains in beet roots, a phytonutrient, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, in addition to being a good detoxifier. Beets help to protect against birth defects, heart disease and certain types of cancer, such as cancer of the colon.
One of the best sources of beta-carotene (vitamin A), sweet potatoes should be a regular presence on everyone’s autumn table. One medium-sized sweet potato is almost enough to fulfill your daily requirement of vitamin A. Steaming them (as opposed to roasting or boiling) brings out their greatest nutritional value. They are high in two other antioxidants (in addition to vitamin A), vitamins C and E, which reduce the damage from free radicals, and contain large amounts of vitamin B6, which reduces levels of homocysteine in the blood, reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke.
All in all, autumn eating is among the best in the year for providing superior nutrition. Add many of them to your weekly meal plan this fall and winter and see how well you emerge in the spring!