It’s Fall in Vermont with the frost on the pumpkins, the cornstalks drying in fields, the carrots and beets freshly dug, and apples ready to pick or purchase from local orchards. These foods of fall are brimming with valuable nutrients which are essential to our present and future health. Many studies have found that these nutrients help prevent heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and premature aging. In addition, these foods of the harvest are low in fat, calories, sodium, and cholesterol, but high in that important ingredient: fiber.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend eating plenty of vegetables and fruits—a goal of 9 servings per day— to get adequate amounts of these important nutrients: Vitamins A and C, and other antioxidants such as lutein and lycopene.
Vitamin A or Beta-Carotene is found in especially generous amounts in vegetables and fruits that are deep yellow or orange in color: winter squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins. These orange pigments are due to carotenes which the digestive system converts to vitamin A. Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are also rich sources of vitamin A, as well as lutein, vitamins C, and folate.
Vitamin C is a natural anti-oxidant which protects cells and reduces inflammation which may be a factor in heart disease, many types of cancer, and processes of aging. The Fall harvest includes many vegetables which are good sources of vitamin C: broccoli, winter squash, tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green and red peppers, and potatoes. Vitamin C is also found in several fruits: cantaloupe, strawberries, oranges, and grapefruits.
Fiber: The vegetables and fruits – especially apples – abundant at harvest time are great sources of dietary fiber, which is the indigestible part of foods. Fiber keeps food moving through the digestive system quickly, and can keep potentially harmful compounds from staying in the digestive tract for too long. Most Americans don’t eat the recommended 20-35 grams of fiber per day.
Here are some suggestions for increasing the amount and varieties of these nutrient-rich and recently harvested veggies and fruits in you daily meals and snacks:
- Make vegetables part of every meal: microwave, stir-fry, or steam them.
- Keep a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter or table.
- Eat fruit often as a quick, easy dessert.
- Reach for chunks of vegetables or pieces of fruit for snacks.
- Try fresh veggies or fruits instead of chips and crackers when watching TV.
The Fall harvest season is an opportunity to have a variety of foods fresh from the farmer’s fields and to experience the flavors and the nutrients in a crunchy, crispy, or creatively prepared way. Enjoy the harvest of nutrition!
Sue Johansen, RD, CDE is a clinical dietician and a member of the UVM Medical Center’s Community Health Team, which provides multidisciplinary clinical support, education and health management to patients with chronic disease or health conditions, through an innovative patient-centered medical home model.