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Nutrition Smarts

Healthy Harvest
By Christine Palumbo, RD

There's something about fall that beckons us to spend more time in the kitchen. Like warm sunny days paired with cool autumn nights. Farmers markets, home gardens and produce departments are full of some of the most delicious foods of the year—tree fruit like apples and pears and vegetables like squashes and root vegetables—that are crisp, colorful and sweet.

The cooler weather makes it easy to cook with techniques like braising, wilting, roasting, mashing, puréeing and caramelizing to create fragrant dishes from the season's freshest ingredients. But there's more to the fall harvest than taste alone.

Research provides a multitude of reasons to up your fruit and vegetable intake. The August 13, 2001 Archives of Internal Medicine published findings from the Nurses' Health Study, showing that following a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish can lower a woman's risk of heart disease by up to one-third. Many other studies have shown that populations with a high produce intake have lower cancer risk. New research even suggests that people who eat diets rich in fruits and vegetables may help keep wrinkles at bay.

Venerable Vegetables

Some of nature's finest nutrient-packed produce plays a starring role this time of year. The phytonutrients found in such cruciferous vegetables as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, kale, bok choy and cauliflower are packed with healthful compounds like indoles, sulforaphane, carotenoids and flavonoids. Indoles and sulforaphane may help prevent breast cancer, while carotenoids and flavonoids may prevent other types of cancers.

Tasty orange-colored foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, and acorn squash supply carotenoids, flavonoids and zeaxanthin—nutrients that help prevent cancer and atherosclerosis. Vegetables (and fruits) are also rich sources of dietary fiber. Fiber binds to and dilutes cancer-causing agents and speeds them through the digestive tract, helps control diabetes and high cholesterol levels, and may prevent diverticular disease.

Research conducted at the University of Washington suggests that some individuals have a genetic distaste for the very compounds that supply healthful properties to such vegetables as Brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli. Adam Drewnowski, PhD, who conducted the studies, suggests adding a bit of butter or cheese sauce to help mask the flavors if necessary. The key? Just eat them!

Fabulous Fruits

The quintessential fall fruit is the apple. Bursting with sweetness and a satisfying crunch, these orbs have newfound respect among nutrition researchers. Apples and their juice are now known to contain plentiful amounts of antioxidants called polyphenols that slow the oxidation of LDL cholesterol in the blood, protecting against heart disease. Besides eating them out of hand, apples can be used in crisps or pies, salads, or simply baked with a little sugar.

Cranberries are good sources of proanthocyanidins, powerful antioxidants that promote urinary tract health by preventing bacteria from sticking to the lining of the bladder wall. Emerging research also points to cranberries in promoting cardiovascular health.

Harvest Time

Now is the perfect time to enjoy the best of the autumn season. So take a drive and pick up a basket of apples or some Brussels sprouts for your family. You'll tickle your taste buds and give your health a boost, too!

You'll "fall" for these tasty autumn recipes using the season's best fruits and vegetables:

Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Roast Pork Loin with Wilted Baby Greens and Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette
Barley, Mushroom and Winter Squash Risotto
Jimmy Schmidt, The Rattlesnake Club, Detroit, MI
Shrimp Stir-Fry with Chinese Cabbage, Carrots and Broccoli
Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Pepitas
Nora Pouillon, Restaurant Nora, Washington, DC
Cranberry Nut Muffins
Harvest Apples
Fall Fruit Salad

The following chart lists valuable nutrients found in autumn fruits and vegetables.

   Carot-
 enoids
 Flavonoids  Isothio-
 cyanates
 Phenols  Vitamin C  Gluco-
 sinolates
/Indoles
 Other
Apples  
 
   
Cranberries  
 
  Catechins
Grapes  
 
  Anthocyanins, Resveritrol
Kiwi
   
   
Pears  
   
   
Bok Choy  
Dithiolthiones, Tannins, Terpenes
Broccoli
Dithiolthiones, Tannins, Terpenes, Sulforaphane
Brussels Sprouts
Dithiolthiones, Anthoxanthins, Sulforaphane
Cabbage
Dithiolthiones, Anthoxanthins, Sulforaphane
Carrots
 
     
Cauliflower  
Dithiolthiones, Anthoxanthins
Eggplant  
        Terpenes, Anthocyanins
Kale
Terpenes, Sulforaphane
Pumpkin
 
   
Squash (Acorn & Butternut)
 
   
Sweet Potatoes /Yams
 
  Terpenes

(Adapted from "Overview of the health benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption for the dietetics professional: Selected Literature." Journal of the American Dietetics Association, December 2000)

 

About Christine Palumbo, RD

Christine Palumbo, MBA, RD has been a nutrition communications consultant since 1989, providing dietary counsel and analysis on various nutrition, health and weight management topics to corporate clients and news media outlets nationwide. An active member of the American Dietetic Association (ADA), the Illinois Dietetic Association and the Chicago Dietetic Association for more than twenty years, she has served on a variety of boards and practice group committees within those organizations.

Palumbo has been featured in national women's, health and business magazines, daily newspapers and local and national radio and television programs. She also received the Illinois Dietetic Association's Outstanding Dietitian of the Year award for 2002.

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