A new season brings change—and we’re not just talking about our wardrobes. Our diets do some shifting, too. As produce changes for the season, we start to look for delicious and nutritious alternatives to our summer favorites. Think fewer berries, more apples. One smart way to double the nutritional value of your diet is to choose superfoods. While there is no current FDA food-labeling regulation for superfoods, these media-sanctioned picks are said to provide multiple health benefits. “[These benefits] may include high vitamin, mineral, or antioxidant content; an association with prevention of a chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease; or a good source of a macronutrient, such as protein,” says Johna Mailolli, R.D.
So, before you head to your local farmers market this fall, read on to find out what seasonal superfoods you can source—plus, some tips on how to work them into your diet.
Keith-Thomas Ayoob, Ed.D., R.D., F.A.N.D., defines beans as “simple, cheap, and among the most underappreciated foods in the food supply.” Though you might increase the protein content of your summer veggie salad with cold black beans, in the fall, these tiny fiber-rich goodies step more into the spotlight. In fact, Ayoob recommends incorporating them as much as possible. Try them in dishes, soups, and just about everywhere else. “They’re loaded with antioxidants and their fiber is ‘prebiotic,’ meaning it feeds healthy bacteria in our gut,” he says. “The fiber also helps you feel fuller and bean eaters tend to be less overweight.” As a bonus, he says they’re also heart-healthy: Eating just half a cup of beans several times a week has been shown to lower bad cholesterol and leave the good cholesterol alone.
We can all agree that pumpkins signal fall. Don’t stop at decorating and carving them (or, ahem, enjoying a calorie-rich latte), though. Add them to your vegetable rotation, too. Whether you use these orange goodies as a side dish, add some chunks to your stew, or make a mash, they are a great source of fiber and other nutritional necessities, says Monica Auslander Moreno, M.S., R.D. “Pumpkin is high in beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant, as well as potassium, needed for cardiovascular and muscle tissue health,” she explains. Her favorite way to serve it? Transformed into a risotto with oats—yum!
Skip dipping them in caramel or smothering them in sugar for a pie. Instead, use this fall superfood as a pre- or post-workout snack. Alyssa Lavy, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., explains that this fruit is an impressive source of soluble fiber, which may help to lower your cholesterol. For those always on the go, apples are a portable snack that can be turned into vehicles for nut butters or yogurt. “These inexpensive fruits are abundant in the fall, and each variety has its own unique flavor while also supplying vitamin C,” she says.
Yep, we’re talking about that parsley … found in the herb section of your grocery store or for sale fresh at a local stand. While it may seem like an insignificant addition to your dishes, Registered Dietitian Laura Cipullo says sometimes the small things provide the greatest impact. “These little cold-loving leaves contain the highest amount of the antioxidant myricetin per 100 grams, which may decrease insulin resistance,” she explains. “Parsley is also plentiful in the antioxidant apigenin. Both of these plant compounds are associated with countering free radicals and cancer-causing chemicals, especially in breast cancer.”
What’s great about this tiny but mighty green addition is how easily you can incorporate it into your dishes. Cipullo recommends regular gym-goers sprinkle a bit onto steak or chicken meals. It’s also ideal for smoothies, soups, and tabbouleh.
Not all superfoods are created equally, and Mike Roussell, Ph.D., says that how you prepare cabbage can up the ante on what it provides for your health. How so? This ground-grown green contains glucosinolate, which can be broken down into indole-3-carbinol and diindolylmethane when cooked. In other words: These compounds help our bodies fight against cancer and serve as a killer probiotic when cooked.
Good news for those who look forward to warm, rich, creamy squash soup every autumn: Mailolli notes this fall superstar is a great source of vitamins A and C and is remarkably low in calories. Because of its vitamin content, she says those who battle seasonal affective disorder will reap mood-boosting benefits as their happy hormone, aka serotonin, increases.
Even if you weren’t a fan as a kid, your most sophisticated palate may enjoy these red beauties more now. Ayoob says there are endless ways to prepare them: roasted, steamed, juiced, or even sliced raw. Their color illustrates how rich they are in antioxidants, but he adds they also have a surprising ingredient: nitrate. “Nitrates are converted to nitric oxide, which increases blood flow and therefore oxygen. Studies have shown that beet juice followed by exercise has beneficial effects on oxygen delivery and brain function,” he explains.
Much like acorn squash, Mailolli says Swiss chard is also rich in vitamins A and C. Plus, the components of this fall favorite are particularly beneficial for those who work out regularly. Because of the vitamin C that’s naturally derived in this root veggie, your muscle tissue will repair easily. The iron helps produce collagen to keep your bones and tissues strong.
Look out for these superstar superfoods at your local farmers market this season to keep your fall meals high in flavor and nutrients.