By Brian Sodoma
Autumn’s closing in with a burst of color and a breath of cool air, bringing its culinary gifts. Here are seven healthy foods that are in season right now, all perfect for using as either the centerpiece of or a great addition to a family meal.
The Mineral-Rich Beet
Earthy beets, in season in the country’s colder regions through November, are rich in folates, as well as in iron and other minerals like manganese and potassium. Thanks to their high inorganic nitrate content, beets have been associated with lower blood pressure and improved blood flow. The beet’s cardiorespiratory-boosting qualities make it a favorite of athletes.
Roast or steam beets for a colorful garnish that’s ready in a flash. Beets and goat cheese make for a classic pairing that won’t let you down, and a pot of borscht, that beet-based Eastern European staple, will get you through more than one frigid night this winter. Or else jump on the current pickling bandwagon and try some savory pickled beets.
The Versatility Of The Cuke
Harvested into November, the low-calorie cucumber is packed with antioxidants and vitamin K, which is essential to both blood and bone health. Its skin is fiber-rich, and its high water content will help keep you hydrated.
In the kitchen, toss your chopped cucumber with sliced onions, vinegar, salt and pepper, then toss in sour cream and a handful of fresh dill for a classic salad. Or else get more creative, combining it with arugula, feta cheese, red onions, lemon juice, pepper and late-season watermelon for a sweet-and-savory salad.
Carrots: The Starter Vegetable
This vitamin A-rich root’s high sugar content makes it a great starter vegetable for sweets-loving kids. The carrot is rich in beta carotene, potassium, fiber and antioxidants. Plus, despite those high sugar levels, carrots rank low on the glycemic index.
Carrot cake is one of the great autumn desserts, and carrot soup with ginger and lemon is just the thing for a chilly day. On the other hand, perfect new carrots straight from the farm stand need little more than a quick toss in the pan with salt, pepper and butter.
Pomegranates: Ruby-Red Wholesomeness
Fall is pomegranate season in California. The ruby-like arils, or seed pods, of this shrub fruit pack high levels of vitamins K and C, and a cup of its ruby red arils offers a full seven grams of fiber. Pomegranates also contain punicalagins, strong antioxidants, giving them three times the anti-cancer punch of red wine or green tea. Punicalagins also contribute to the pomegranate’s anti-inflammatory properties.
Consider adding pomegranate to guacamole for a zesty contrast to avocado’s mellow softness. Or bake up some delectable pomegranate orange muffins to fill your kitchen with tempting aromas. Top those muffins — or bread, crackers, crudités — with a pomegranate goat cheese dip.
The biggest challenge to using a pomegranate in the kitchen is seeding it, but there’s no shortage of online tutorials to help you through the process.
Taking Blueberries Beyond The Muffin
The blueberry can grow well into October even in the nippy New England states. This sweet, antioxidant-strong fruit contains the flavonoid anthocyanin, a first-class antioxidant. Blueberries help build up collagen, which is key to healthy skin. Their high potassium, calcium and magnesium contents help keep blood pressure low. One cup of blueberries also contains 24 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C.
Blueberries are superheroes when it comes to muffins, pies, scones, tarts and other baked goods, but they also lend themselves to main courses and salads. Give a whirl to a blueberry romaine salad or blueberry Dijon chicken to get a sense of this fruit’s versatility.
The South’s Healthy, Hearty Green
A staple of Southern cooking, collard greens are a seasonal favorite that can be available well into winter below the Mason-Dixon Line. A cup of collards has more than the recommended daily allowance of vitamin K, which helps bones absorb calcium. Collards are members of the cruciferous vegetable class, which some studies suggest may help lower the risk of breast cancer.
Collard greens prepared Southern-style get their strong flavor profile largely from simmering with pork products, but you can also find delicious healthier versions of them. Vegetarians can cook collards in vegetable stock with tomatoes, onions, red pepper flakes and garlic for an easy meat-free dish with a richness that will satisfy carnivores, too.
Citrus: Vitamin C And Much More
The benefits of citrus extend well beyond its work in boosting the immune system and fending off the winter sniffles. It may also lower cholesterol and help the body absorb iron.
Citrus famously adds a fresh note to poultry, as in this easy citrus chicken dish or this recipe for seared duck breasts with blood oranges. Citrus fruits work wonders with desserts, too, bringing their vitamin C kick to healthier after-meal options such as blood orange chia pudding and dark chocolate orange brownies.
No matter where you live in the United States, healthy produce is in season. Hit your local market for a culinary experience that’s as tasty as it is wholesome.
Note: Estimates for seasonality of foods were provided by seasonalfoodguide.org.
Brian Sodoma is a journalist who covers business and health. He lives in Arizona.