Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is easy to do in the summer. Plump, brightly coloured berries, juicy peaches and tomatoes and crisp leafy greens, all brimming with vitamins and minerals, are readily available, and delicious.
It's true, you won't find summer's bounty of locally grown, farm fresh produce in the grocery store this time of year. But that's not an excuse to let your daily intake of fruits and vegetables plummet.
Now – and in the colder months to come – there is plenty of in-season produce that delivers flavour and nutrition. And you don't have to rely on or bananas or berries imported from far-away farms to get both. (Actually, imported berries, in my opinion, aren't big on flavour.)
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables – year-round – is linked to a lower risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, cataract, macular degeneration, cognitive decline and digestive tract cancers.
Health Canada recommends eating seven to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables (combined) every day. Achieving the upper target – a stretch for many people this time of year – requires eating roughly five cups worth of fresh fruit and vegetables a day. (One serving is equivalent to one medium-sized fruit, 1/2 cup chopped fruit or berries, 1/4 cup dried, unsweetened fruit, 1/2 cup of cooked or raw vegetables or one cup of salad greens.)
Benefits of seasonal produce
Modern agriculture and food distribution allow us to enjoy a wide variety of fruits and vegetables year-round. But there are good reasons to eat seasonal produce that's grown close to where it's sold.
Locally grown produce is picked at its peak of ripeness, providing maximum flavour and nutrition. The short time from field to table also allows locally grown produce to retain nutrients susceptible to breakdown, which can occur when produce is transported long distances.
Many fall and winter fruits and vegetables deliver a similar a nutrient and antioxidant kick to their summer cousins. And some serve up a hefty dose of beneficial compounds that summer produce can't match.
You'll also save money by choosing foods that are in season.
What to eat now
For all-round nutrition, here are six in-season fruits and vegetables to add to your fall diet, including some that give summer's produce a run for its money. (Of course, there are many others that deserve a regular spot on your fall and winter menu.)
Apples and pears: These two fall fruits offer similar nutritional benefits. Both are a good source of fibre – one medium-sized pear, for instance, delivers nearly six grams – including pectin, a soluble fibre linked to lowered cholesterol levels and blood sugar.
Apples and pears also deliver quercetin, a phytochemical with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Quercetin is found mainly in the skin, so eating the whole fruit offers more benefits.
Serve baked apples or pears with a sprinkle of cinnamon and drizzle of honey for dessert. Make a batch of unsweetened applesauce to fold into oatmeal and muffin batters (a great way to reduce the amount of oil in a muffin or loaf recipe) or top pancakes and waffles with it.
Beets: Beets owe their bright red hue to betalains, potent antioxidants thought to boost cardiovascular health. They also contain nitrates, compounds the body uses to relax and dilate blood vessels. Studies also suggest that drinking nitrate-rich beet juice may boost endurance performance and cognitive function.
For a vegetable perceived as being high in natural sugar, 1/2 cup of beets has only 37 calories (and six grams of sugar). It also supplies almost 20 per cent of a day's worth of folate, a B vitamin that helps keep DNA in cells healthy.
Add grated beets to salads and sandwiches, bake thinly sliced beets to serve as "chips" and add leftover cooked beets to smoothies. Or, my favourite way to eat beets: Sauté cut-up roasted beets with freshly squeezed orange juice and orange zest and garnish with chopped chives.
Cabbage: This underrated cruciferous vegetable, a close cousin to broccoli and cauliflower, is packed with vitamin C. One cup, chopped, delivers almost one-third of a day's worth of the nutrient for men and one-half of a day's worth for women.
Cabbage is also a decent source of fibre, calcium, potassium and bone-building vitamin K.
Plus, cabbage delivers plenty of anti-cancer phytochemicals called glucosinolates. To reap the benefits of glucosinolates, eat cabbage raw or lightly cooked.
Add shredded cabbage to salads, tacos and tuna salad. Stir cabbage into soups, stir-fries and casseroles. Or, make homemade sauerkraut, a fermented side dish that delivers probiotic bacteria.
Parsnips: They may be white, but parsnips are surprisingly nutrient-dense. One cup of cooked parsnip has 5.5 grams of fibre, 572 milligrams of potassium, 20 mg of vitamin C and almost one-quarter of a day's folate.
Parsnips are also packed with falcarinol, a phytochemical with anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
Roast parsnips with herbs or mash cooked parsnips with other root vegetables such as carrot, turnip or sweet potato.
Turnip: One cup of mashed turnip (a favourite of mine) is an exceptional source of fibre (4.6 g), calcium (76 mg), potassium (407 mg) and vitamin C (27 mg). Turnip also serves up plenty of cancer-fighting glucosinolates.
Add shredded raw turnip to salads and coleslaw, serve sliced raw young turnips with hummus and roast cubed turnip with other root vegetables. Add turnip to soups and stews; when vegetables break down, they release nutrients into the cooking liquid.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan.