Fall is the perfect time to punch up your diet. The harvest season offers a bumper crop of delicious local produce, much of which is nutritionally dense, high in fibre and inexpensive, too. Embrace autumn’s bounty and kick-start your family menus with these dietitian-recommended superfoods.
Superpowers: “Squash is high in fibre, contains vitamin A, C, potassium, magnesium, and is tasty,” says Katie Antonutti, registered holistic nutritionist, of Toronto’s Nude Food Nutrition and Shape Health and Wellness Centres. And yellow and orange squash contain beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that may help protect the body against certain cancers.
How to enjoy them: Swap higher-calorie starchy food such as rice, potatoes and pasta for a serving of this high-nutrient, low-cal starch. Steam it, bake it, make a soup, or prepare it the way Antonutti does: quartered, brushed with butter, drizzled with maple syrup, dusted with salt, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, and then roasted in a 400F oven until golden brown.
Superpowers: “This root vegetable is rich in iron and potassium, and also contains niacin, vitamin C, folic acid and zinc,” says Antonutti. Weekend warriors, take note: A 2011 study by England’s University of Exeter, published in the medical journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, found that beet juice improved the athletic performance of competitive-level cyclists. The study suggests the nitrates in beet juice widen blood vessels, reduce blood pressure and allow more blood flow. In addition, they reduce the amount of oxygen needed by muscle tissue during activity.
How to enjoy them: This versatile vegetable can be eaten raw, juiced, steamed, roasted, or puréed into the classic borscht soup. Simplify beet prep by boiling whole beets until cooked, then bathing them in cold water: their skins will slide right off, which is much easier than peeling them raw.
Superpowers: “Sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, contain B vitamins, vitamin C, fibre and potassium, and are a great alternative to white potatoes because they’re a complex carbohydrate and do not spike your blood sugar,” says Antonutti.
How to enjoy them: Bake them in foil, make fries or hash browns, mash them, or slice them into wedges and then brush on some olive oil, roasting them with a dash of salt and paprika for extra kick. Leave the skins on to maximize their nutrients and fibre.
Superpowers: “Apples are a good source of fibre and are high in antioxidants. Eating apples is associated with a decreased risk of chronic disease including heart disease, asthma and some types of cancer. Apples are also high in soluble fibre, which can help regulate blood sugar and lower cholesterol,” says Stefanie Senior, a registered dietitian at Athletic Edge Sports Medicine.
How to enjoy them: They’re perfect for snacking on. “A medium apple is just 72 calories, and can keep you full between meals, especially when eaten with a protein source for a complete snack. Eat it with nuts, low-fat cheese or yogurt,” says Senior. Whole apples provide fibre than applesauce.
Superpowers: “Cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts are high in vitamin A, and also contain vitamin C, folic acid, fibre, potassium and iron,” says Antonutti.
How to enjoy them: Antonutti recommends baking them, chopping raw sprouts into a salad or steaming them (this maximizes their cholesterol-lowering benefits). Or elevate this humble peasant vegetable by halving each sprouts, then sautéing the batch in a cast-iron pan with chunks of thick-cut bacon.