Healthy Eating: Top picks of the fall harvest

As Succot draws to a close and autumn is in full swing, check out these healthy fall treats.

Pumpkins 311 (photo credit: Detroit Free Press/MCT)
Pumpkins 311
(photo credit: Detroit Free Press/MCT)
For those in the Northern Hemisphere, fall has well and truly begun. In North America and across Northern Europe, the trees have already begun to turn to beautiful shades of red, yellow and orange, and well in Israel, the rainy season is quickly approaching. While winter brings snow, spring brings flowers and summer brings heat, the fall brings, the fall harvest! Many fruits and vegetables produce the best crops in autumn, while others can only be found at this time of the year. So don’t wait to start taking advantage of the fall produce:
Here are four fruits and vegetables to eat under your Succa this year:
Next to green witches ridding on broomsticks, and spooky spider webs, pumpkins are the ultimate symbol of Halloween. However, don’t wait until October 31 to start buying pumpkins (and no not because they will sell out), but because they are extremely valuable to your health. No trick!
Pumpkins are an excellent, and tasty, health treat. Extremely low in calories (offering only 30 calories per raw cup), pumpkins contain no fat, and are loaded with vitamins A through E (with the exception of D). The flesh of your jack o’ lantern is also rich in potassium – a mineral needed to maintain a proper fluid balance– as well as magnesium, a mineral needed for hundreds of functions in the body, including building and strengthening bones, relaxing nerves and muscles and keeping blood circulating smoothly.
However, it's the pumpkin’s orange hue that indicates its most significant health perk – carotenoids, specifically alpha-carotene and beta-carotene. On top of being converted into Vitamin A, which supports cell reproduction and which is needed for proper vision and immunity function inside the body - these two powerful carotenoids act as potent antioxidants. By mopping up harmful free radicals, alpha and beta carotene help to decrease the risk of many age-related diseases including cancer and heart diseases.
Pumpkins are also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, two other carotenoids typically found in green vegetables needed for proper vision. While all of the above listed nutrients are found in a pumpkin’s flesh, the fourth and final pumpkin health treat lies in its seeds. Rich in many minerals including Zinc and Magnesium, studies have also found that pumpkin seeds’ essential fatty acids may help to reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men; while another compound in the seed (know as phytosterols) have shown to have significant cholesterol lowering properties.
Brussels Sprouts
While they may not be from Brussels, the health benefits surrounding these tiny cabbages are no myth. Touted for their cancer-fighting properties, Brussels sprouts contain more antioxidant polyphenols than any other cruciferous vegetable, including the king of the superfood - broccoli.
On top of reducing the risk of cancer, this Fall vegetable offers double heart protection. Its high fiber content has been shown to reduce cholesterol, while anti-inflammatory substances found in Brussels sprouts have been found to reduce the risk of arterial blockage. Moreover, Vitamins A, C and E found in Brussels sprouts have all been shown to help fight age-related diseases caused by cell damage from oxidative stress; while the ample supply of Vitamin K per serving promotes proper blood clotting, protects bones from fractures, and helps to prevent post-menopausal bone loss, among many other functions. Now most children are not normally the biggest fans of these veggies, and many adults still don’t care for them either. But roasting them in olive oil, adding a little black pepper and a dash of rosemary, should definitely help to increase their appeal.
Butternut Squash
Just like the Brussels Sprout, Butternut Squashes have a rather illusive name; however, don’t let the word “butter” fool you. Butternut Squashes have nothing to do with butter (unless you decide to add it to your recipe). Not only are they extremely low in fat and calories – offering a mere 82 calories and 0 grams of fat per cooked cup– but they are also abundant in many health beneficial nutrients.
In fact, they are far richer in nutrients than many other members of the squash clan (including both winter squash such as pumpkins and acorns and summer squash such as cucumber). So why should you serve butternut squash under your succa? For starters, this delicious fruit (yes fruit as it contains seeds) is a rich source of fiber, offering an ample five grams per cooked cup. Apart from helping to regulate the digestive tract, a diet high in fiber lowers cholesterol and therefore, helps to reduce the risk of heart disease.
In addition to fiber, Butternut Squash is also high in folate, a B vitamin, which amongst many other functions, is needed to break down homocysteine, a toxic metabolic byproduct in the body. What’s the link with cardiovascular disease? Today, more and more studies are finding a strong correlation between high levels of homocysteine in the bloodstream and an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. However, the health benefits don’t stop there.
This creamy, delicious squash is high in potassium - an essential mineral needed for proper bone health and to maintain fluid balance in the body as well as Vitamin B6, needed for proper functioning of both the nervous and immune systems, and of course Vitamin C.
Finally, just like its heftier cousin – the pumpkin – Butternut Squash is also abundant in disease fighting carotenoids! So whether you prefer them mashed up as a side dish, or as hearty butternut squash soup, don’t forget to include this squash in your succa this year.
After Brussels Sprouts, artichokes are probably the next vegetable that our mothers tried to force down our throats as children. Now they probably did this because they thought they were healthy, and would keep us that way; and guess what, they were right!
For centuries artichokes have been recognized as a liver tonic, as they contain natural properties that help to remove toxins from this vital organ; however, recent scientific studies have found that artichokes can help to control blood glucose levels, an important attribute for people who suffer from diabetes type II or who are prone to the disease.
This vegetable is also considered a good source of Vitamin C and K as well as potassium, folate, manganese and magnesium (depending on how it is cooked). However, watch out as one raw artichoke contains 120 mg of sodium (equivalent to 5 percent of one’s daily recommended intake). So avoid boiling them in salt, if you do not want to increase the sodium content.