Eat Well to Be Well: Enjoy fall’s cornucopia of healthy colors

Autumn is in full swing and is beginning to show off her fall colors in the landscape around us – red, orange and yellow. This is a perfect time of year to look for these same colors in the produce section at the grocery store to reap bountiful health benefits. Foods with these bright colors provide a multitude of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to keep you healthy and well-nourished. Here are foods to look for and try during this colorful season:

Red Foods

Cranberries – This mighty berry is packed with vitamin C, fiber, proanthocyanidins, and antioxidants and has only 45 calories per cup. It is well known that eating cranberries can prevent bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract wall helping to prevent urinary tract infections. Fresh cranberries can last up to two months in the refrigerator in a sealed plastic bag. Also try dried cranberries added to cereal, muffins or to a homemade trail mix or drink 100 percent cranberry juice.

101214-peppersRed Bell Pepper – Loaded with almost a day’s worth of vitamin A (4,666 international units) and contains 100 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance for vitamin C in one cup, this beauty will keep your eyesight sharp and your immune system running like a charm. Its bright red color comes from the antioxidant lycopene which may prevent prostate cancer in men.

Beets – Yes, beets! Maybe not your most favorite food (or maybe it is), but give it a chance. Look at it this way: There are only 26 calories in one-half cup, no fat and it’s a good source of folate, vitamin C, potassium and manganese. This ancient food that grew naturally along coastlines in North Africa, Asia and Europe, can help lower blood pressure and fight inflammation. Its crimson red color comes from phytochemicals that may help reduce cancer.

Orange Foods

Carrots – What’s not to love about carrots! This root vegetable is available year round and is often a mainstay in backyard gardens. Well known for being “good for the eyes”, carrots are rich in beta-carotene which is converted into vitamin A in the liver and can help decrease your risk of developing macular degeneration, cataracts and night blindness. Beautiful skin, preventing cancer and improved immunity are other benefits carrots provide.

Sweet Potatoes – Fall just wouldn’t be the same without eating a sweet potato. Native to Central and South America, Christopher Columbus brought sweet potatoes back to Europe in 1492. Abounding in vitamin A (it’s one of the best sources around) and C, fiber and iron, this potato lives up to its name “sweet” as it can promote healthy skin, reduce inflammation and may help reduce cancer.

101214-oranges2Oranges – Maybe you think of oranges as a summertime fruit, but the season for navel oranges begins in November and lasts through April. This is when oranges are at their peak and a great time to savor their sweetness. With over 170 different phytochemicals and more than 60 flavonoids, one medium orange contains 80 calories, 0 grams of fat and 3 grams of fiber. Eating one orange will also provide 130 percent of your vitamin C needs for the day and may possibly reduce your risk of stroke, blood pressure and cancer.

Yellow Foods

Yellow Peppers – Another pepper you do not want to overlook. This sweet tasting pepper is a good source of vitamin C and also contains fiber, iron and vitamin A. Its vibrant eye-catching yellow hue is courtesy of a pigment called carotenoids which promote a strong immune system and healthy skin and eyes. Fiber found in yellow peppers helps prevent constipation, lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Pineapple – This fruit is second only to bananas as America’s favorite tropical fruit. Their resemblance to pinecones is what gave pineapples their name and surprisingly,101214-pineapple did not originate in Hawaii. Again, Christopher Columbus brought them back to Europe after an expedition to South America. Rich in vitamin C, pineapples also are a good source of thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, potassium and folate. Fresh pineapple also is a source of an enzyme called bromelain, which studies have shown is effective in alleviating arthritis and joint pain, reducing inflammation, and inhibiting tumor growth.

Winter Squash – Different from summer squash, winter squash is harvested and eaten as a mature fruit when the seeds inside have fully developed and the outside skin is hardened into a tough rind. Butternut, spaghetti and acorn squash are common varieties of winter squash you will find in the grocery store. Don’t let their “tough” demeanor intimidate you into trying them out. Their yellow color means they are packed with carotenoids which may help reduce heart disease. They contain minimal fat and one-half cup of acorn squash provides 4.5 grams of fiber. Potassium and vitamin A are other good sources of nutrients these squashes provide.

It’s easy to eat the colors of fall if you know what produce to look for. Make a splash with these seasonal colors on your breakfast, lunch and dinner plates. Doing so will help you “fall” into good health in no time!

Here are a couple of recipes from Eating Well magazine to get you started:

Oven-Roasted Squash with Garlic and Parsley
from Eating Well magazine. Makes 10 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 5 pounds winter squash (butternut or acorn; can also sweet potatoes for half of this amount)
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ tsps. salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
  2. Toss squash with 4 teaspoons oil, salt and pepper. Spread evenly on a large baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until tender throughout and lightly browned, 30 to 45 minutes.
  3. Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring until fragrant but not brown, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Toss the roasted squash with the garlic and parsley.

***

Brown Sugar-Glazed Beets
from Eating Well magazine. Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp. dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. orange juice
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground pepper
  • 3 cups steamed cubed beets, ½ to 1-inch cubes
  1. Steam beets either on the stovetop or microwave. If stovetop, place beets in a steamer basket over 1 inch of boiling water in a large pot. Cover and steam over high heat until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. If microwaving, place beets in a glass baking dish, add 2 tablespoons water, cover tightly and microwave on High until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Let stand covered for 5 minutes.
  2. Combine brown sugar, orange juice, butter, salt and pepper in a large nonstick skillet. Cook over medium heat until the sugar and butter are melted and starting to bubble.
  3. Stir in beets and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the beets are coated with glaze, 6 to 8 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

Sources: Nutrition Concepts and Controversies, Dietary Reference Intakes, WebMD, and Nutritiondata.com.


Cheryl_Mussatto_pictureCheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian who works as an adjunct professor at Allen Community College, where she teaches the course Basic Nutrition. She is also a certified health and wellness coach. She writes Eat Well to Be Well, a column about health and nutrition, and may be contacted at [email protected].

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