As the temperature begins to cool, kids go back to school and college football seems just around the corner. You know what's coming: fall.
Summer gets a lot of attention for roadside farmers' stands selling everything from tomatoes to cucumbers to watermelons. True, a lot of healthy and tasty foods are harvested in the summer.
But what about the fall? This season doesn't disappoint, either.
There are so many fresh fruits and vegetables that come with the fall that it can be hard to narrow down which ones are best for you. But in this article, we'll look at 10 of the healthiest fall fares.
You'll want to consider a number of factors when evaluating whether a food is healthy, and opinions on different items are as varied as the foods themselves.
To help, nutritionist Dr. Joel Furhman created a scale called the Aggregate Nutrition Density Index, or ANDI. The ANDI scale ranges from 1 to 1,000 -- the latter being the rank for the most nutrient-dense foods available. The scores are based on nutrient density by calories, not serving sizes [source: Held].
Some grocers, like Whole Foods, have adopted the ANDI score to help consumers make healthy choices. But as in any system, a right balance is needed in food choices (for instance, olive oil is only a 9 but is a heart-healthy food that has many benefits), so use the scoring system with other information [source: Whole Foods Market].
Some of the items on our list have high ANDI scores; others have lower ones. But each one has some great property that makes it a health-food choice for eating well in the fall.
10: Sweet Potatoes
The fall is a great time for root vegetables. Often these types of veggies need time and warmth to develop, meaning they're best harvested in early or late fall depending on when they're planted.
And one of the tastiest -- and healthiest -- root vegetables is the sweet potato.
Sweet potatoes are native to Central and South America and are commercially produced in the southern United States, particularly in Louisiana and North Carolina [source: University of Illinois Extension].
Sweet potatoes are extremely rich in vitamin A, which is important for good vision, healthy skin and a strong immune system, among other things. A serving of sweet potatoes typically has twice the daily recommended amount of vitamin A [source: Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission].
With an ANDI score of 83, they're also practically fat- and sodium-free, so feel good when you bake those sweet potatoes.
A relative of the carrot, parsnips are root vegetables that are best harvested in late fall or even early winter. Their slightly sweet taste isn't entirely dissimilar to carrots either, but they really bring a flavor of their own [source: University of Illinois Extension].
And a major health boost, parsnips add one of the greatest amounts of dietary fiber to your diet. In a half-cup serving, the root vegetable has 4 grams of fiber, half of that being soluble fiber. Some studies suggest plenty of fiber can help prevent colon cancer, and soluble fiber has been linked to lowering cholesterol [source: Tufts University].
Despite an ANDI score of 37, parsnips are a great addition to your fall meals for the fiber alone.
For our next healthy fall food, let's takes a break from vegetables and consider something naturally sweet.
Pears are the perfect treat for a sweet tooth, but they're also versatile enough to be cooked into a number of dishes.
In the U.S., harvesting begins in August with Bartlett pears, the most commonly recognizable variety. Harvesting continues through September and October, where other types of pears are collected, like Anjou, Bosc and Commice [source: Pear Bureau Northwest].
Among a list of the most common fruits, pears contain the highest amount of fiber. A large pear has 5 grams of fiber, 3 of them in the form of soluble fiber [source: Tufts University].
In addition to the high amount of fiber, pears are full of vitamin C. They're also a great source of potassium. A medium fruit contains about 190 milligrams of potassium, a mineral necessary for a healthy heart, muscles, nerves and more [source: Pear Bureau Northwest].
Pears score a 46 on the ANDI scale.
7: Winter Squash
Next up isn't really one food but many, typically clumped together under the name winter squash.
There are numerous types of winter squash, all of them healthy for you. Winter squash are different than their summer cousins in that they have a tough rind and flesh and must be cooked before eating [source: The Cook's Thesaurus].
Some of the more common kinds are butternut squash, acorn squash and buttercup squash. Butternut squash is considered the healthiest of the bunch, ranking 10th for non-green vegetables on the ANDI scale with a score of 156 [source: WFM].
One neat thing about winter squash is that the varieties can be stored for months after harvest, making them a great seasonal vegetable well into the cold winter months [source: The Cook's Thesaurus].
Technically a winter squash, the ubiquitous pumpkin deserves a spot of its own on the list.
What would fall be without pumpkins: the carving of jack-o'-lanterns, the centerpiece of the table? And did you know that in addition to serving as a decoration, pumpkins are a great food to add to your fall diet?
Considered a low calorie food, pumpkins are full of dietary fiber, like sweet potatoes and parsnips. They also have a high content of vitamin A, with a normal serving providing about 246 percent of the recommended daily amount [source: Nutrition and You].
Pumpkins are rich in B vitamins like folate, niacin and thiamin, and are a good source of trace minerals like calcium, copper, phosphorus and potassium [source: Nutrition and You].
Makes you think twice about turning down that second piece of pumpkin pie.
5: Brussels Sprouts
Do you remember when you were a kid and being served over-cooked, bitter little cabbage heads? If so, you're not alone. But Brussels sprouts deserve a second chance.
Brussels sprouts are gaining renewed interest, especially in the U.S., as a superfood -- one packed with a number of healthy nutrients that may prevent certain diseases.
The sprouts don't disappoint in this area. What don't they have? First, Brussels sprouts are high in protein for a vegetable, about 3.8 grams per serving. They're also loaded with bone-healthy vitamin K (147 percent recommended daily amount), immune-boosting vitamin C (142 percent RDA), B vitamins, calcium, potassium, iron, manganese and more. They're seriously stacked [source: Nutrition and You].
As far as the ANDI scale is concerned, Brussels sprouts score a whopping 672, eighth on the list of green vegetables [source: WFM].
Though known for being bitter, reducing cooking time can minimize this effect. Brussels sprouts are great boiled and pan-seared. Do yourself a favor and try them again.
The pomegranate is a festive fall food that is a great boost to your health.
The inside of a pomegranate is full of inedible white pulp that surrounds arils, little red pods of pulp and juice that surround the seeds. The arils are the part that you eat.
Of late, pomegranates have received much attention for their high level of antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds found as vitamins, minerals and other sources in fruits and vegetables that counter the effect of free radicals, broken-down cells that cause damage to healthy cells [source: International Food Information Council].
Antioxidants are effective at stabilizing, and thus neutralizing, free radicals before they're able to cause harm to the human body. Stabilized free radicals are then expelled as waste from the body [source: IFIC].
What list of healthy fall foods would be complete without a little slice of Americana?
One of the most popular fruits on the market, apples are such a part of U.S. culture. Apple pie, the Big Apple, Apple computers ... apples are all around. And everyone's heard, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." But is there truth to that?
If nutritionists are asked, the answer is a resounding yes. Apples are packed with vitamin C and antioxidants. They also happen to be a great source of both insoluble and soluble fiber, with one large apple providing 30 percent of the daily recommended intake [source: SuperFoodsRX].
Apples are 12th in fruits on the ANDI scale at 72, not a bad number for a fruit [source: WFM].
The important thing to remember is to leave the skin on. The skin and the layer directly beneath it contain most of the healthy fiber and nutrients an apple provides [source: SuperFoodsRX].
2: Turnip Greens
As we progress onward in our list of top healthy fall foods, we move into the area every nutritionist loves, dark leafy greens.
Dark leafy greens are full of vitamins and minerals. An often overlooked leafy green is the turnip top.
Turnip tops, or turnip greens, are just what you think they'd be: the top part of the underground turnip. Turnips have been cultivated for centuries for their taste and ease of use in the kitchen, but the greens are where the real nutrients are at [source: VegOnline].
Turnip greens are packed with vitamins, more than your body could even process in a day. As far as recommended daily value (DV) goes, a serving of turnip greens provides 660 percent DV vitamin K, 220 percent DV vitamin A, 66 percent DV vitamin C, 40 percent DV folates, 20 percent DV dietary fiber and more [source: VegOnline].
And if all those numbers aren't enough to convince you, the ANDI scale considers turnip greens to be one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. The greens have a perfect score of 1,000 [source: WFM].
But they aren't the only one. Check out the next page for our final healthy fall food.
At the top of our list of 10 healthy fall foods is one you may have not tried, but one that is certainly gaining notoriety as a great tasting, super healthy leafy green.
Kale, a relative of the cabbage, is a dark leafy vegetable that is usually green but sometimes purple. The crinkled-looking leaves are chock-full of a number of healthy nutrients, and, like turnip greens, score a perfect 1,000 on the ANDI scale [source: WFM].
Kale is a great source of most important vitamins: A, K, C and B. It's loaded with beta-carotene, an antioxidant thought to prevent cancer and heart disease, as well as calcium, manganese and potassium.
It can be cooked like any other type of leafy green, and its texture stands up well to heat, as opposed to that of spinach.
So there you have it, a list of 10 healthy foods you should consider adding to the menu this fall. Considering the wide range of foods we've looked at, who says eating healthy has to be boring?
Lots More Information
- The Cook's Thesaurus. "Winter Squash." 2005. (Aug. 1, 2012) http://www.foodsubs.com/Squash.html
- Held, Lisa Elaine. "ANDI: The weird nutritional acronym explained." Well & Good NYC. May 17, 2012. (July 30, 2012) http://www.wellandgoodnyc.com/2012/05/17/andi-the-weird-nutritional-acronym-explained/#
- International Food Information Council. "Functional Foods Fact Sheet: Antioxidants." March 2006. (July 31, 2012) www.foodinsight.org/Resources/Detail.aspx?topic=Functional_Foods_Fact_Sheet_Antioxidants
- Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission. "Sweet potato facts." 2012. (July 29, 2012) http://www.sweetpotato.org/facts/
- MedLine Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. "Vitamin C." March 14, 2012. (July 30, 2012) www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/1001.html
- Nutrition and You. "Brussels sprouts nutrition facts." 2012. (Aug. 1, 2012) http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/brussel-sprouts.html
- Nutrition and You. "Pumpkin nutrition facts." 2012. (Aug. 1, 2012) http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/pumpkin.html
- Pear Bureau Northwest. "Field to Market." 2012. (July 31, 2012) http://usapears.org/Facts%20And%20Nutrition/Tree%20To%20Table/Field%20to%20Market.aspx
- Pear Bureau Northwest. "Fun Facts and FAQs." 2012. (July 31, 2012) http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/1718
- SuperFoodsRX. "Apples – Overview." 2012. (Aug. 2, 2012) http://www.superfoodsrx.com/superfoods/apples/
- Tufts University. "Fiber." July 1, 2009. (July 28, 2012) www.tufts.edu/med/nutrition-infection/hiv/health_fiber.html
- University of Illinois Extension. "Parsnip." 2012. (July 29, 2012) http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/parsnip.cfm
- University of Illinois Extension. "Sweet potato." 2012. (July 29, 2012) http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/sweetpotato.cfm
- VegOnline. "Nutrition Facts: Turnip Greens." 2012. (Aug. 2, 2012) http://vegonline.org/vegetable-nutrition-facts/nutrition-facts-turnip-greens/
- Whole Foods Market. "Roasted parsnips and sweet potatoes with honey-pecan drizzle." 2012. (July 30, 2012) http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/1718
- Whole Foods Market. "Top Ten ANDI Scores." 2012. (July 28, 2012) http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/healthstartshere/andi.php