Autumn tends to be one of the busiest times for farmers' markets, which isn't surprising considering that some of the healthiest foods available to us are in season during the fall months.
In the United States, nutrient-rich veggies and fruits that are harvested in the fall include certain types of greens, winter squashes, sweet potatoes, beets, and more.
Not only does eating seasonally mean that you're most likely to find the best tasting produce, but it has many other benefits too, such as supporting your local farmers and economy and helping you to save money.
In-season fruits and veggies also tend to have the richest amounts of nutrients, since they are typically easier to grow, requiring less use of chemicals, and fresher too. The nutrient density of produce begins to decline the instant that foods are harvested, so eating locally-grown, seasonal produce is the best way to get the most vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants into your diet.
7 Healthiest Fall Foods for Eating In-Season
1. Sweet Potatoes/Yams
Whether you're making homemade fries with them, hashbrowns, or simply baked potatoes, sweet potatoes are an inexpensive and healthy addition to your diet. They are full of vitamin A/beta-carotene, as well as vitamin C and potassium, which means they support a strong immune system.
Many adults are lacking potassium in their diets, but this mineral is essential for maintaining healthy blood pressure (since it helps balance the effects of sodium) as well as normal nerve and muscle functions.
Potatoes of all kinds are good sources of potassium, but sweet potatoes have the added benefit of containing more antioxidants than their beige cousins.
Apples are usually available year-round, but fall is when you'll find the greatest variety of apples and also the best-tasting ones.
These family favorites are versatile in things like baked goods, autumn salads, and oatmeal, plus they're a great source of fiber, specifically pectin fiber which benefits digestive and gut health. People's fiber is even encouraged by doctors for people dealing with high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and to prevent colon cancer and prostate cancer.
Just one medium apple provides between 4 to 5 grams of fiber, which is about 20% of adults' daily needs, making it a filling snack.
3. Turnip Greens
Turnips plants are in the cruciferous plant family, meaning they are related to nutritious veggies like cabbage, kale, and broccoli.
These greens are prized for their cancer-fighting and anti-inflammatory properties, thanks to their rich supply of antioxidants and antimicrobial compounds such as polyphenols, beta carotene, quercetin, and myricetin.
Studies show that eating more leafy greens, in general, can help to defend against obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and many forms of cancer.
Because turnip greens have a bit of a sharp and peppery flavor, try cooking them briefly with garlic and olive oil, or adding them to stews or soups, to make them more tender and tasty.
Pumpkin is more than a fall decoration — it's considered among the best vegetable sources of vitamin A/beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that helps fight oxidative stress and protects the eyes and skin from damage, while also supporting the immune system in the battle against infections.
Additionally, pumpkin is rich in fiber, vitamin C, B vitamins, copper, folate, and manganese. Its high fiber content helps you to feel full, can cut down on calorie consumption and cravings, and helps fight constipation.
Plus, pumpkin has a great flavor and creates a smooth texture in recipes such as bread and desserts, decreasing the need for added oil and sweeteners.
These purple veggies contain several unique nutrients that aren't found in many other foods, including natural nitrates and anti-inflammatory compounds such as betalains that support cardiovascular and cognitive health.
Research shows that nitrates found in beets can help support healthy circulation and significantly lower blood pressure, plus this veggie is helpful for exercise recovery and performance. They are also a good source of fiber, folate, manganese, and potassium which aid in digestive and metabolic health.
Like pumpkin, beets are naturally sweet, which means adding them to unexpected recipes like baked goods and smoothies is great for cutting down on added sugar.
6. Brussels Sprouts
Related to veggies like broccoli and cauliflower, Brussels sprouts are full of phytochemicals and anti-inflammatory nutrients including kaempferol and vitamin C, which aid in cardiovascular health and protect against cancer (especially cancers affecting the digestive system like colon, stomach, and rectal cancer).
In addition, they provide you with lots of vitamin K, an essential nutrient for blood clotting, heart functions, and bone health, plus vitamin A, folate, and manganese.
To bring out their signature flavor and make them easier to digest, try cooking Brussels sprouts by roasting, sauteing, or blanching them.
7. Butternut/Winter Squash
Nutrients found in winter squashes, including vitamin A and vitamin C, help neutralize free radicals and defend against oxidative stress, which is associated with the development of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and dementia.
Vitamins A and C also have antioxidant effects and protect tissues against damage, while supporting the production of proteins like collagen that aid in joint, skin, and gut health.
Squash is also high in fiber, which helps regulate blood sugar levels and aids in digestive health by "feeding" healthy probiotic bacteria in the gut.
To help them develop a sweet, caramelized taste, try roasting squash or adding them to casseroles.