When summer fruits and vegetables start to disappear from grocery stores, and the action shifts indoors to watching sports and munching on unhealthy snacks, it helps to have a diet plan in place to avoid weight gain.
First, remember that farmers’ markets are still open across the country. You can buy local as long as you make the shift from summer crops to fall ones. That means tomatoes and cucumbers give way to offerings like root vegetables, including carrots, parsnips and turnips, and the wide variety of squashes such as acorn, butternut, Hubbard and kabocha.
These are all great for hearty, cook-ahead soups and stews for dinners and brown bag lunches. Vegetables in the orange family, including sweet potatoes, are rich in vitamin A. But don’t overlook nutrient-dense dark, leafy greens like varieties of chard and bok choy. Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables may be abundant in your area, and they taste great roasted with a slight drizzle of olive oil and finished with a splash of balsamic vinegar — hearty enough for a vegetarian meal.
Though local melons, stone fruits and many berries may be gone, explore sweet fall fruits like apples, pears and grapes, as well as the more exotic pomegranates, persimmons and quince, the season’s first cranberries and even fall raspberries. Have fruit salads ready to snack on instead of greasy chips and crackers or make a batch of baked apples or poached pears to satisfy a sweet tooth.
And there are plenty of healthy superfoods to reach for in the fall! Skip the usual pumpkin spice lattes and choose real, whole foods full of vitamins and antioxidants. We’ve included tips from nutritionists’ favorite superfoods, including some of their favorite easy recipes.
This year skip the artificial pumpkin spice craze and go for the real thing. Pumpkins are everyone’s favorite fall superfood and for good reason. “Providing more fiber per cup than kale, pumpkin can help to keep you feeling fuller, longer,” explains Samina Kalloo, RDN, CDN. “It’s also an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two powerful antioxidants that are recognized for playing a critical role in eye health.” Try adding unsweetened pumpkin puree to your favorite smoothie or mixing it into a healthy yogurt parfait.
Whether roasted, steamed, or served fresh, broccoli is a delicious veggie loaded with health benefits. “Broccoli is a great source of vitamins K, C, and E, folate, potassium, calcium, and fiber,” says Ariana Kulinczenko, RD, LDN. “It benefits digestion, cardiovascular health and contains anti-inflammatory properties.” Try steaming broccoli with fresh garlic and lemon juice for a nutritious side dish on busy nights.
Cauliflower may seem like a bland veggie at first glance but it’s a sneaky superfood that can turn into scrumptious comfort food with just a few tweaks. “It is high in fiber, B-vitamins, antioxidants, and choline,” says Kulinczenko. “Cauliflower may promote weight loss, protect against cancer and improve learning and memory.” Use it in place of mashed potatoes or pizza crust for an easy swap no one will notice.
This tart superfood isn’t just for Thanksgiving anymore. Cranberries are known for preventing urinary tract infections but have benefits for your whole body. “Dried cranberries have been shown to improve gut health by altering the gut microbiota, as well as improve blood sugar regulation in type 2 diabetics,” says New York-based dietician Angela Goscilo. “In addition, as a good source of vitamin C, cranberries can support oral health and immune function.” Goscilo recommends blending fresh cranberries with diced jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice and a dash of sugar for a tart salsa everyone will love.
Beets can add gorgeous color to your fall salads and side dishes while giving your brain a boost. “Beets have a good amount of folate and potassium,” says Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN. “Try adding beets to your smoothie or baked goods like red velvet cake or pink-frosted cupcakes.”
Sweet potatoes make the perfect fall side dish and are rich in vitamin A for healthy eyes and fiber for a healthy gut. Miller recommends starting out your day with a nutrient-packed twist on breakfast toast. “Instead of bread, slice a sweet potato lengthwise into ¼ to ½ inch slices,” says Miller. “Pop them in the toaster to toast and then top with your favorite toppings.”
“Even beyond the known heart health benefits, walnuts have been researched for a variety of potential benefits including diabetes, cognitive function, mental health, cancer, weight, and gut and reproductive health. A recent study even found that women who ate a Mediterranean diet including walnuts showed a lower risk for gestational diabetes and weight gain during pregnancy,” says, Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, CDN. Middleberg recommends using this nutty superfood to top oatmeal, baked sweet potatoes, or in your favorite pesto recipe. They are just one of the superfoods every heathy woman needs in her diet and are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber.
Brussel sprouts may have been one of those vegetables you dreaded as a kid but they’ll quickly become one of your favorite fall superfoods. “They have about 3.8 grams of protein per serving, which is high for a vegetable,” says Reed. “They also contain 147 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin K, which promotes bone health.” Try roasting them in the oven with olive oil, salt and balsamic vinegar for a crispy side dish.
Lentils are a tiny legume that pack a major health punch. They’re rich in fiber, protein, and folate and are known to support a healthy heart. Dahlia Marin, RDN loves them so much that she replaces meat dishes with a rich and flavorful lentil loaf instead. “This dish offers a wide variety of seasonal veggies, protein, and fiber to fill your stomach and body with nutrients,” says Marin.
If pomegranates are one of the fall superfoods you’re still not eating, it’s time to give them a second look. They are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C for a healthy immune system. “Research is still emerging but shows promise for reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease, bone loss, hypertension, and more chronic conditions,” says Keith Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FAND. Ayoob recommends buying the seeds and mixing them into Greek yogurt, salads, or oatmeal.
If you’re looking to give your diet a serious boost with protein and fiber, reach for beans. They’ll fill you up while helping you maintain a healthy weight and blood sugar. “Regular bean eaters are less likely to be obese, more likely to live longer, and have a lower risk for cancer and type 2 diabetes,” says Ayoob. Add them to your favorite salads, soups, or creamy dips.
Butternut squash is in-season in August, welcoming us into fall with its savory soups and hearty roasted side dishes. “Butternut squash is versatile and packed with carotenoids, antioxidants that benefit eye and skin health and may help protect against certain cancers,” says Philadelphia based sports dietitian Kelly Jones, “It can be roasted, added to mac and cheese sauces or blended into comforting soups.