Sure, we all get excited for summer’s bounty of sweet berries and juicy watermelon, 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 apples and pears.
While almost all produce can be grown somewhere year-round, trucking produce across the country (or across the world) isn’t easy. Buying local seasonal produce not only potentially reduces our carbon footprint and helps local economies, but it may also result in more nutritious produce.
So why not dig into fall fruits like apples and cranberries, which offer essential vitamins and antioxidants that slow aging and may help fight cancer? Apple phytochemicals and their health benefits. Boyer J, Liu RH. Nutrition Journal, 2004, May.;3():1475-2891. Acute effect of a high nitrate diet on brain perfusion in older adults. Presley TD, Morgan AR, Bechtold E. Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry / Official Journal of the Nitric Oxide Society, 2010, Oct.;24(1):1089-8611. 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 that may also have cancer-fighting potential. Development of a food composition database for the estimation of dietary intakes of glucosinolates, the biologically active constituents of cruciferous vegetables. McNaughton SA, Marks GC. The British Journal of Nutrition, 2003, Oct.;90(3):0007-1145. 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, check out our top autumnal produce picks that are both delicious and super healthy, and 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?)
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 RH. Nutrition Journal, 2004, May.;3():1475-2891. Among popular apple varieties (and there are more than 7,500 different types!), Fuji apples have the highest concentration of phenolics and flavonoids, while Cortland and Empire apples have the lowest. 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 it is inedible raw.
They may be available year-round, but beets are at their best in the fall. Besides the familiar reddish-purple color, you can also find golden, white, and even multicolored beets. When shopping, look for firm, smooth bulbs and (if attached) bright, crisp greens. Toss the greens in salads and roast the beets for their 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 TD, Morgan AR, Bechtold E. Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry / Official Journal of the Nitric Oxide Society, 2010, Oct.;24(1):1089-8611.
Brussels Sprouts and Cabbage
Packed with vitamins A and C, cabbage and its mini-me, Brussels sprouts, boast high concentrations 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 SA, Marks GC. The British Journal of Nutrition, 2003, Oct.;90(3):0007-1145. Try this easy Brussels sprouts scramble for a savory start to your day.
Between the size of a blueberry and a grape, cranberries taste their best October through November, though only 5 percent actually make it to the fresh produce section (the other 95 percent are dried, canned, or turned into juice). Research suggests cranberry concentrate can help prevent urinary tract infections and that fresh cranberries can help prevent oral diseases and slow the growth of cancer. Can a concentrated cranberry extract prevent recurrent urinary tract infections in women? A pilot study. Bailey DT, Dalton C, Joseph Daugherty F. Phytomedicine: International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology, 2007, Feb.;14(4):0944-7113. Potential oral health benefits of cranberry. Bodet C, Grenier D, Chandad F. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 2008, Sep.;48(7):1549-7852. Anticancer activities of cranberry phytochemicals: an update. Neto CC, Amoroso JW, Liberty AM. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 2008, Oct.;52 Suppl 1():1613-4133.
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. Pears are high in soluble fiber, which helps lower “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. To get that daily dose of fiber and to satisfy a sweet tooth, snack on the fruit whole or incorporate into recipes from filling breakfasts to healthier cocktails.
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 an even healthier option thanks to their fiber, antioxidants, and minerals. Comparative contents of dietary fiber, total phenolics, and minerals in persimmons and apples. Gorinstein S, Zachwieja Z, Folta M. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2001, May.;49(2):0021-8561.
Held sacred by many ancient religions, 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, Trifirò E, Jotti GS. Journal of Nedicinal Food, 2009, Sep.;12(2):1557-7600. 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 ND, Mehta R, Yu W. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, 2002, Oct.;71(3):0167-6806. These labor-intensive fruits can be a hassle to deseed, but we figured out the best way to do so. Ah, victory is sweet.
Though technically a member of the squash family, with their rich history and health benefits (plus their essential role in Halloween festivities), pumpkins earn their own spot on our list. Pumpkin is one of the best sources 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 root veggies 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 nutrition. Research suggests eating 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 AR, Lampe JW. Nutrition and Cancer, 2003, Jan.;42(1):0163-5581. [Chemoprevention of tobacco-related lung cancer by cruciferous vegetable]. Balcerek M. Przegla̧d Lekarski, 2008, May.;64(10):0033-2240. What’s more, turnip greens are a source of calcium, and one cup of raw rutabaga offers a respectable three grams of fiber.
From festive photos 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. The gourd family offers varieties including acorn, butternut, and delicata squash, as well as spaghetti squash and its pasta-like strands.
These orange beauties have the best flavor during fall, their peak season. Like squash, sweet potatoes are rich in 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 PJ, Faber M, Tanumihardjo SA. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005, Jun.;81(5):0002-9165. Sweet potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C, and when eaten with their skin on, a medium tater can pack nearly four grams of fiber.
Originally published September 2011. Updated September 2015.