5 Functional Foods to Enjoy This Fall

We welcome fall with big cozy sweaters, dark colors and delicious soups to keep us warm. It is finally time to enjoy apple picking activities and other fun fall activities with our loved ones! As the weather gets cooler, autumn’s bumper crop of fruits and vegetables offers a range of bold textures and flavors. Grocery stores are filled with a wide variety of foods that provide optimal health and help to reduce the risk of disease. These special foods are called “functional foods”.

You may ask yourself, what are functional foods?  Functional foods are foods that have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition. Proponents of functional foods say they promote optimal health and help reduce the risk of disease. Examples of these foods include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fortified foods and beverages and some dietary supplements. Functional characteristics of many traditional foods are being discovered and studied, while new food products are being developed to include beneficial components. By knowing which foods can provide specific health benefits, you can make food and beverage choices that allow you to take greater control of your health. Don’t let this season pass by without trying these 5 fall functional foods:

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Pumpkins

What do you think of when autumn comes around? Pumpkins! That’s right, pumpkins. Whether you are headed to a pumpkin patch for the day or carving out a cool masterpiece, pumpkins are known for its wide variety of uses… which makes them great. What also makes this vegetable great is its nutrient density and health benefits. Pumpkins contain beta- carotene which is an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals in the body. Vitamin A is also found in pumpkins which helps support the function of white blood cells, promote bone growth, and helps to regulate cell growth and division. Pumpkin seeds have magnesium which support maintenance of normal muscle and nerve function, immune health, and bone health.

Fall Food Find: Pumpkin seeds. Blend pumpkin seeds in a smoothie, roast and toss in a salad, or add it to sauces or soups to revamp the flavor!

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Apples

Ever heard the phrase, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away?”  Not only are apples low in calories, they are packed with nutrients and come in a variety of colors, flavors, and textures all for you to select from! Apples have many health benefits such as reducing cholesterol, improving bowel function, and lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes. They contain flavonoids which support maintenance of heart health, support maintenance of urinary tract health, and have antioxidants which neutralize free radicals that damage cells. That’s not it; apples are rich in vitamins A, and C and minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, and calcium which all have positive effects on health. Stop by your grocery store to select your favorite apples or apple products like apple sauce which all contain healthful nutrients. Experiment with them and make it an addition to your breakfast, snack or dessert.

Fall Food Find: Baked Apple with Crisp Topping. Cut an apple in half, fill with oats, cinnamon, and brown sugar, then place in oven until oats are golden, and apple is tender for a sweet treat this season.  

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Sweet Potatoes

If your dish is lacking some color, sweet potatoes will change that in a heartbeat! Sweet potatoes are as nutritious as they are delicious. Apart from its vibrant color and unique flavor, sweet potatoes contain many vitamins and antioxidants that reduce the risk of many diseases. The antioxidant that is found in sweet potatoes is beta-carotene, a carotenoid which fights off free radicals from damaging cells and converts into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A has many roles such as supports the function of white blood cells (which is important for a healthy immune system), promotes bone growth, and helps to regulate cell growth and division. Vitamin A and two other types of carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, are also important for healthy vision. Be sure to use canned, frozen, or whole sweet potatoes in baked goods, soups, and more for a sweet or savory nutritious fall meal!

Fall Food Find: Roasted Sweet Potatoes. Dice sweet potatoes, lightly toss in olive oil, and roast at 350°F for 1 hour for a simple, savory side dish.

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Nuts

Every autumn, leaves and temperatures aren’t the only thing that falls, nuts are usually a part of it too. Research suggests that eating 1.5 ounces of most nuts per day as part of a low saturated fat diet may reduce the risk of heart disease. Walnuts and flaxseed, for example, are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat (PUFA). These PUFAs can help improve your cholesterol levels, lower your blood pressure, and reduce your risk of developing blood clots. Almonds and pecans, on the other hand, are high in monounsaturated fats (MUFA), which can improve insulin sensitivity. Like PUFAs, MUFAs also help improve your cholesterol. With a wide variety of nuts to choose from, select your favorite and make it apart of your daily meal plan.

Fall Food Find: Fall Salad with Walnuts and Pomegranate. Select your favorite greens, mix in thyme, parsley, and chives along with any fruits and vegetables that you desire. Add a teaspoon of red wine vinegar, olive oil, and some pomegranate seeds. Don’t forget a ½ c of walnuts. Enjoy!

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Mushrooms

While most mushrooms are available year round, many are at their peak in fall. Mushrooms are packed with nutrients that can leave your body with positive results. Mushrooms contain selenium which is a mineral that plays a role in liver enzyme function, and helps detoxify some cancer-causing compounds in the body. Selenium also helps prevents inflammation. They are also high in vitamin D which contributes to the regulation of the cell growth cycle, as well as folate which plays an important role in DNA synthesis and repair. Mushrooms also contain antioxidants which neutralizes free radicals that damage cells.

Fall Food Find: Green Beans with Mushrooms. In a saucepan, heat vegetable oil and sauté sweet onions, green beans, and mushrooms until tender. Sprinkle fresh basil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

 

Enjoy any of these fall fruits and vegetables in stews, soups, dishes, and desserts while also reaping the health benefits they provide. Happy Fall!