Folks get especially hyped for summer’s sweet berries, but there’s more to fall than Halloween costumes and hay rides. From September to November, the autumn harvest brings a variety of healthful and delicious produce, from squash and sweet potatoes to grapes and pears. Heres our favorite all-star fall produce, along with each selection's nutritional benefits plus some tasty tips and tricks.
Falling For Fall—Your Action Plan
Almost all produce can be grown somewhere year-round, but trucking produce across the country (or across the world) ain’t easy. According to the USDA, buying local seasonal produce not only potentially reduces our carbon footprint and helps local economies, it might also result in more nutritious produce.
Fruits like apples, cranberries, and kiwis aren’t just rich in flavor—they offer essential vitamins and antioxidants, which boost immunity, slow aging, and may help fight cancer Apple phytochemicals and their health benefits. Boyer, J., Liu, R.H. Department of Food Science and Institute of Comparative and Environmental Toxicology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Nutrition Journal 2004 May 12;3:5. Gold kiwifruit (Actinidia chinesis 'Hort16A) for immune support. Skinner, M.A., Loh, J.M., Hunter, D.C., et al. The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Limited, Mt Albert, Auckland, New Zealand. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 2011 May;70(2):276-80. Acute effect of a high nitrate diet on brain perfusion in older adults. Presley, T.D., Morgan, A.R., Bechtold, E., et al. Department of Physics, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC. Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry 2011 Jan 1;24(1):34-42. Development of a food composition database for the estimation of dietary intakes of glucosinolates, the biologically active constituents of cruciferous vegetables. McNaughton, S.A., Marks, G.C. School of Population Health, University of Queensland, Herston, Queensland, Australia. The British Journal of Nutrition 2003 Sep;90(3):687-97..
On the veggie side, the entire cruciferous family—that’s the cabbage, rutabaga, and cauliflower gang—is in season and offers a compound known as glucosinolates, which may also have cancer-fighting potential. And who could forget about squash? These big, bright gourds offer healthy alpha- and beta-carotene, which promote good eyesight.
To get the best of what fall has to offer, keep track of what’s in season near you. Also, don’t be afraid to try something new. (Who knew leeks or figs would taste so good?) Check out our picks for fall’s best fare:
These sweet, crunchy fall favorites are packed with antioxidants, which may help prevent chronic illness and slow aging Apple phytochemicals and their health benefits. Boyer, J., Liu, R.H. Department of Food Science and Institute of Comparative and Environmental Toxicology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Nutrition Journal 2004 May 12;3:5.. Among popular apple varieties (and there are more than 7,500 different types of them!), Fuji apples have the highest concentration of antioxidants, phenolics, and flavonoids, while Cortland and Empire apples have the lowest Apple phytochemicals and their health benefits. Boyer, J., Liu, R.H. Department of Food Science and Institute of Comparative and Environmental Toxicology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Nutrition Journal 2004 May 12;3:5.. Quince, a floral-flavored cousin of the apple, is also at its best in autumn and can be added to jams, jellies, and desserts—but is inedible raw.
They may be available year-round, but beets are at their best in the fall. When selecting these reddish purple gems, look for firm, smooth bulbs and (if attached) bright, crisp greens. Be sure to trim these right away though, since they can leech the beets’ nutrients including betaine, a compound that may help prevent heart and liver disease, and nitrate, which may increase blood flow to the brain and potentially reduce risk of dementia Acute effect of a high nitrate diet on brain perfusion in older adults. Presley, T.D., Morgan, A.R., Bechtold, E., et al. Department of Physics, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC. Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry 2011 Jan 1;24(1):34-42..
Brussels Sprouts & Cabbage
Packed with vitamins A and C, cabbage and its mini-me, Brussels sprouts, boast a high concentration of cancer-fighting glucosinolates, (which also lend these veggies their distinct flavor) Development of a food composition database for the estimation of dietary intakes of glucosinolates, the biologically active constituents of cruciferous vegetables. McNaughton, S.A., Marks, G.C. School of Population Health, University of Queensland, Herston, Queensland, Australia. The British Journal of Nutrition 2003 Sep;90(3):687-97.. With just a handful of ingredients and 20 minutes tops, we like our sprouts Greatist-style.
Between the size of a blueberry and a grape, cranberries are at their best October through November, though only 5 percent actually make it to the produce section (the other 95 percent are dried, canned, or turned into juice). Research suggests cranberry concentrate can help prevent urinary tract infections and fresh cranberries can prevent oral diseases and slow the growth of breast, colon, prostate, and lung cancers Can a concentrated cranberry extract prevent recurrent urinary tract infections in women? A pilot study. Bailey, D.T., Dalton, C., Joseph Daugherty, F., et al. Helios Integrated Medicine, Boulder, CO. Phytomedicine: International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology 2007 Apr;14(4):237-41. Potential oral health benefits of cranberry. Bodet, C., Grenier, D., Chandad, F., et al. Groupe de Recherche en Ecologie Buccale, Faculte de Medecine Dentaire, Universite Laval, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. Critical Reviews In Food Science and Nutrition 2008 Aug;48(7):672-80. Anticancer activities of cranberry phytochemicals: an update. Neto, C.C., Amoroso, J.W., Liberty, A.M., Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, North Dartmouth, MA. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 2008 Jun;52 Suppl 1:S18-27..
These sweet fruits fall into two major categories: European and Asian. In the U.S., the European varieties, Bosc and Bartlett, are most common, and grow on the west coast during fall. Like oatmeal and bran, pears are high in soluble fiber, which helps lower “bad” cholesterol, or LDL. To get that daily dose of fiber or to satisfy a sweet tooth, incorporate pears into anything from savory entrees to creative cocktail recipes.
Resembling a bright orange peach wearing a leafy cap, most persimmons are imported from Asia, with a few American-grown species sprinkled about the Southeast. Just be warned: under-ripe persimmons can be extremely tart, so allow them to ripen at room temperature before eating. Compared to apples, persimmons can be considered a healthier option thanks to their fiber, antioxidants, and minerals Comparative contents of dietary fiber, total phenolics, and minerals in persimmons and apples. Gorinstein, S., Zachweja, Z., Folta, M., et al. Department of Medicinal Chemistry, School of Pharmacy, The Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2001 Feb;49(2):952-7..
The fruit of ancient lore, pomegranates have health benefits that have only been recognized more recently (POM juice, anyone?). While much of the research has been inconclusive, some studies suggest the fruit’s antioxidants may reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications like heart attacks Effects of pomegranate juice and extract polyphenols on platelet function. Mattiello, T., Trifiro, E., Jotti, G.S., et al. Department of Experimental Medicine, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy. Journal of Medicinal Food 2009 Apr;12(2):334-9.. Early studies also suggest that pomegranate may help prevent breast and colon cancers, though results are far from conclusive Chemopreventive and adjuvant therapeutic potential of pomegranate (Punica granatum) for human breast cancer. Kim, N.D., Mehta, R., Yu, W., et al. Department of Pharmacy, Pusan National University, Korea. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 2002 Feb;71(3):203-17.. These labor-intensive fruits can be a hassle to cook, but victory is sweet.
Though technically a member of the squash family, with their rich history and health benefits, not to mention their essential role in Halloween festivities, pumpkins earn their own spot on our list. Pumpkin offers a wealth of alpha- and beta-carotene, which can be converted into retinol to promote healthy vision and cell growth. Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that may help those with heart disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. Toast them up for a deliciously nostalgic treat!
Rutabagas and Turnips
These cruciferous family root vegetables aren’t winning any beauty pageants with their bulbous shape and occasionally hair-like roots, but what they lack in looks they make up for in superpowers. Research suggests turnips and rutabagas may help reduce the risk of prostate and lung cancers Brassica vegetables and prostate cancer risk: a review of the epidemiological evidence. Kristal, A.R., Lampe, J.W. Cancer Prevention Research Program, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA. Nutrition and Cancer 2002;42(1):1-9. Chemoprevention of tobacco-related lung cancer by cruciferous vegetable. Balcerek, M. (Original article in Polish) Katedra i Zakład Farmakognozji, Collegium Medicum UMK w Bydgoszczy, Poland. Przeglad Lekarski 2007;64(10):903-5.. What’s more, turnip greens are a good source of calcium, and one cup of rutabaga offers a respectable 3 grams of fiber.
From festive calendars to Thanksgiving table centerpieces, squash is the poster food for autumn. Summer squash are still available locally until October in some parts of the country, and winter squash begin to crop up (pun intended) as summer squash heads out. This branch of the family offers acorn squash, which is rich in potassium and prevents muscles from feeling fatigued and weak, among others.
These orange beauties have the best flavor during fall, their peak season. Like squash, sweet potatoes are rich in and beta-carotene, which can prevent vitamin A deficiencies, promote healthy eyesight and generate retinol production Beta-carotene-rich orange-fleshed sweet potato improves the vitamin A status of primary school children assessed with the modified-relative-dose-response test. van Jaarsveld, P.J., Faber, M., Tanumihardjo, S.A., et al. Nutritional Intervention Research Unit, Medical Research Council, Parow, South Africa. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2005 May;81(5):1080-7.. Sweet potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C, and when baked in their skin can pack nearly 5 grams of fiber.
Originally published on September 28, 2011. Updated September 2013.