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food for thought

Summer is officially over (sadly). Along with those warm sunny days, gone also are some of my favourite foods – Niagara peaches, Quebec’s wild blueberries and, of course, local farm-fresh sweet corn.

Truthfully, though, I’m looking forward to the fall ahead. It’s a season to reset our diets and rediscover nutritious foods now in season.

Eating locally produced foods (versus imported) is less expensive, supports your community and is better for the environment (e.g., how far did those out-of-season berries have to travel to get to your grocery store?).

Plus, eating seasonally means enjoying foods when their flavours and nutrients are at their peak.

If they’re not yet on your radar, consider adding the following nutrient-packed foods to your fall menu.

Butternut squash

This peanut-shaped winter squash is an exceptional source of carotenoids, antioxidants thought to guard against cognitive decline and heart disease. One cup of cooked squash, for instance, delivers 9.3 milligrams of beta-carotene, triple the amount experts recommend consuming each day to help prevent chronic disease.

Butternut squash also delivers plenty of alpha-carotene, a member of the carotenoid family linked to cancer prevention. And one cup of cooked butternut squash serves up a decent amount of fibre (6.5 grams) and potassium (582 milligrams), along with folate, calcium and magnesium.

Enjoy roasted butternut squash as a side dish; I like to season it with cumin seeds or ras el hanout, a delicious North African spice blend.

Add cubes of roasted butternut squash to green salads, whole grain bowls, burritos, chili and stews. Or blend it into a creamy squash soup with apple or pear, also in season now.

Purée cooked butternut squash and freeze for later use. Add it to smoothies, pasta sauces, and muffin and pancake batters.

Jerusalem artichokes

Also called sunchokes, these nutty-tasting, crunchy brown-skinned tubers (not truly artichokes, nor are they related to Jerusalem) are an excellent source of inulin, a prebiotic fibre that nourishes beneficial gut microbes. Inulin helps promote digestive heath, enhances mineral absorption and increases satiety.

Jerusalem artichokes are also high in iron, supplying 2.5 milligrams per one-half-cup sliced.

Prepare Jerusalem artichokes as you would potatoes or parsnips. Serve them mashed, roasted, sautéed, grilled, boiled, stir-fried with vegetables or blended into soups. Or enjoy them raw in salads, sliced or grated.

Due to their inulin content, Jerusalem artichokes may cause bloating in some people with irritable bowel syndrome.

Beets

These root vegetables owe their deep crimson hue to betalains, phytochemicals that act as antioxidants, help reduce inflammation and aid the liver’s detoxification system.

Beets are also a very good source of folate, a B vitamin the body uses to make DNA and red blood cells.

Add grated raw beets to salads and veggie sandwiches or wraps. Roast beets along with other root vegetables such as turnip, carrots and parsnips.

Sauté precooked beets in olive oil with a splash of freshly squeezed orange juice and orange zest. Or make beet chips by tossing thinly sliced beets with olive oil and then baking until crisp.

Use the green beet tops, too. One-half-cup cooked is an outstanding source of potassium and carotenoids, including beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and lutein, a phytochemical that supports brain health and vision.

Sockeye salmon (canned)

British Columbia’s wild sockeye salmon season (June through August) is over, but canned (and frozen) wild sockeye is available year-round.

Salmon is well-known for its heart-healthy omega-3 fats, but it also delivers a hefty amount of vitamin D, a nutrient that strengthens immunity and supports bone health.

Salmon, especially sockeye, is one of the few foods that offers a generous supply of vitamin D. Three ounces of canned sockeye salmon contain 715 international units (IU), more than Health Canada recommends (600 IU) for individuals ages 1 to 70. (Older adults are advised to get 800 IU per day.)

Three ounces of sockeye salmon is also an excellent source of vitamin B12 (4.7 micrograms) and calcium (197 milligrams) and supplies one-half of a day’s worth of selenium, an antioxidant mineral that protects immune cells from free radical damage.

Use canned sockeye salmon to make salmon burgers and salmon cakes, toss it into green salads or grain bowls, or add it to scrambled eggs or frittatas. For a change from tuna, enjoy a salmon salad sandwich.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD

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