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"Let Food Be Thy Medicine"
October 2018
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Jean Varney
Jeannie Varney
 Nutrition Consultant


Gone are the warm, muggy days of summer and most of the sweet, juicy produce of its season. Thankfully, the cool days of fall offer their own bounty of fruits and vegetables, equally as nutritious and utterly delicious. So enjoy the last of the tomatoes, cucumbers, peaches, and corn that may still be lingering at your farmer's market, while loading up your grocery bags with autumn flavors.

Eating seasonally ensures you're consuming the most nutrient dense produce available. Minerals and especially vitamins are very susceptible to light and temperature. Once harvested, if not frozen immediately, they start to lose their taste and nutritional value quickly. This time of year, some of our staples come from thousands of miles away - asparagus from Peru, blueberries from Argentina and organic red peppers from Holland to name a few. These foods are still wonderful for us and should continue to make their way onto your plates but to guarantee the best tasting, freshest and most nutrient dense produce available, while saving a pretty penny, start to focus on what's being harvested now. For me, paying $5.99 for a container of organic strawberries is hard to swallow. Instead, I've started topping my morning steel-cut oats with locally grown apples or sugar sweet pears, toasted walnuts, flaxseed and yes, sweet potatoes - a seasonal, inexpensive, energizing and perfectly decadent breakfast that is loaded with nutrients and fiber. Below is my list of fall favorites that I recommend you incorporate into your meals over the next few months. Your local farmer's market is a great place to buy them. I've also included simple and delicious recipes to help you get started. Let me know if you have a favorite!

The Best of Fall
Apples: They're satisfying, inexpensive, convenient, and loaded with fiber that lowers cholesterol and antioxidants that fight disease. They also are high in quercetin, a flavonoid that fends off certain strains of the flu. All varieties are healthful, so eat whichever ones you prefer. Enjoy them raw with nut butter or cottage cheese, throw them in your salads or cook them in your steel-cut oatmeal with a little cinnamon and salt for a satisfying and flavorful breakfast. Resist peeling these treats; the skin harbors most of the nutrients. (Recipe: Apple Hazelnut/Walnut/Pumpkin Seed Kale Salad)  One word of caution: the Environmental Working Group finds apples to contain the most pesticide residue of all produce so consider buying organic varieties or wash conventional varieties really well before eating.

Pears: Who doesn't love pears? These delicious treats satisfy even my daughter's sweet tooth and are the perfect compliment to yogurt, oatmeal, salads, and grains. Despite their sugary flavor, pears are known to improve insulin resistance and help protect us against type II diabetes. That is, if you eat the skin which contains more than half the fruit's whopping 6.6 grams of fiber. ( Recipe: Farro Pear and Grapefruit Salad)

Pomegranates: Sweet and sour, the seeds of this fruit contain more antioxidants than red wine ... with fewer calories and no risk of cancer. They're a delicious source of potassium and vitamins C and K and Folate, which are vital for our immune system and cardiovascular health. There is no tasty way to lower blood pressure than to include these seeds in your salad, quinoa, yogurt or even cauliflower tabouli. Do however avoid the commercial juices made from these pearls, as they are low in nutrients and fiber and high in natural sugar. (Recipe: Cauliflower and Pomegranate Tabbouleh)

Brussels Sprouts: I featured Brussels sprouts as a food focus a few years ago and received a lot of flak for it. Despite the resistance, they remain on my list of must eats. High in iron, vitamins K and C, and folate, these little cabbages are known for their cancer fighting and cholesterol lowering compounds. They also help manage blood sugar and reduce inflammation in the body. To avoid the bitterness that gives these veggies a bad rap, don't overcook them. Shaved Brussels sprouts are delicious sautéed with onions, garlic and peppers but I think they're best roasted with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and tossed in my nightly salad. (Recipe: Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Onions and Apples)

Cabbage: All varieties (green, purple, Savoy etc.) are wonderfully nutritious but if you haven't tried Napa or Chinese cabbage, you're missing out. This particular variety is mild in flavor, easy to digest and the healthiest of the bunch. It ranks right up there nutritionally with spinach, arugula and mustard greens. It is also incredibly versatile. Use the large leaves as you would rice to thicken soups and stir-fries or as bread - wrap slices of turkey and cheese, tomatoes and hummus in them and enjoy at lunch or fill a leaf or two with a black bean and tofu homemade hash (don't forget the salsa and avocado) in the morning for a satisfying, plant-based protein-rich breakfast. Need a different kind of salad for dinner? Try this recipe - it will quickly become a family favorite. (Recipe: Cabbage Soup)

Cauliflower: Confessions from a foodie ... I eat this cruciferous veggie every day. Tremendously trendy right now, cauliflower has been hailed as the new kale. Okay, from a nutritional standpoint, maybe not, but it is still loaded with antioxidants that research shows can slow the growth of cancer, protect against heart disease, reduce inflammation, support the nervous system and boost our immune system. It is also one of the most versatile veggies I know, easily substituted for pizza dough, rice, mash potatoes and mac and cheese making fall's favorite comfort foods much less caloric and far more nutritious. (Recipe: Cauliflower Mashed "Potatoes")

Greens: The primary growing season for hearty greens including kale, Swiss chard, and collards is spring. But these nutritional powerhouses like the cool weather and in many regions make a guest appearance in early to late fall. The cooler temperatures make them sweeter than usual and unlike other cruciferous veggies they actually love the chilly nights. They are some of the most nutrient dense foods per calorie available and unfortunately seriously missing in our diets. Enjoy them at least 3-4 times a week. Thanks to their high vitamin and mineral content, prepared properly, they can help protect us against loss of vision, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, chronic inflammation and sun damage. They also can help manage blood pressure and weight while fighting depression. Do I need to say more? Throw them in soups, omelets, cauliflower rice, bean and lentil dishes, pasta sauces, salads, and grains or simply sauté them with garlic and onion and top with pomegranate seeds or nutritional yeast to enjoy as a side dish. (To die for, Tuscan Ribollita - Recipe: Weeknight Tuscan Ribollita)  If you're taking a blood thinner like warfarin (Coumadin), you may need to adjust your dosage as you increase your intake of dark leafy greens. They're rich in vitamin K, which plays a key role in blood clotting. Please consult with your doctor before overindulging.

Pumpkin and their seeds:  They're not just for jack-o-lanterns anymore. Pumpkins actually are a winter squash but they and their seeds warrant their own paragraph. The orange pulp is a wonderful source of fiber, potassium, and vitamins A, B, C and E all of which support our cardiovascular and immune system, lungs, eyes and skin. The meaty flesh is sweet and can be roasted like other winter squash or even purchased in a can, unsweetened of course, and added to oatmeal, pancakes, yogurt and soups. Don't forget the pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas. Rinse, dry and roast the seeds with a little olive oil and salt and throw them into your stir-fries, trail mix, salads, and omelets. A quarter cup of this healthy fat contains almost half of our daily requirement of nature's muscle relaxer, magnesium. If you don't want to roast your own seeds, they're available raw or roasted in most grocery stores. ( Recipe: Protein Pumpkin Pancakes)

Sweet Potatoes: The pulp's dark orange, purple and yellow hues reveal this veggie's abundant source of vitamins A and C - two antioxidants that protect and support our eyes, skin and immune system. Much less known is that the sweet potato also contains a hefty dose of B6, which is great for our cardiovascular system. Studies show they can help reduce blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation and improve our moods. No recipe needed, simply wash the skins and place the potato on a piece of tinfoil. With a sharp knife, pierce the top 3-4 times and bake at 400 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until soft. Need a quick and delicious energizing snack/breakfast before spin class or a long run? Mix a ½ of a leftover sweet potato with some cottage cheese or a container of quick cooking unflavored, steel-cut oatmeal. Make your oats with soymilk and cinnamon and top with toasted pumpkin seeds for a balanced breakfast. Need a Meatless Monday recipe? Look no further. (Recipe: Sweet Potato-Lentil Stew)

Winter Squash: Take your pick - there are several varieties to choose from this time of year. Sweeter than summer squash and heartier too, winter squash can serve as a festive fall centerpiece for up to 2 months before being consumed. It's also a delicious way to protect your vision. Just one cup provides you with the recommended daily amount of vitamin A and almost a quarter of a woman's daily fiber needs. (Recipe: Butternut Squash Stew with White Beans and Kale)

Also on my list are beets, carrots, persimmons, quince, onions, garlic and savory herbs. There's no reason to lament the passing of nectarines, plums, and summer squash, simply embrace fall's bounty for equally delicious and nutritious food while adding variety to your meals, energy to your stride and pleasure to your taste buds!

This article is for informational purposes only, is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, and is not a substitute for medical advice.
About Jean Varney 
Jean Varney is the founder and president of Eat Right, Be Fit, Live Well LLC, a health and nutrition consulting firm committed to empowering men and women to improve their health through sustainable changes to their diet and lifestyle.  Based in the Washington DC metropolitan area, Jean coaches clients nationwide by phone and in person.  She focuses on helping individuals make smart choices about the foods they eat in order to maintain high energy levels, avoid unwanted weight gain and decrease their risk of heart disease, cancer, type II diabetes and other chronic illnesses.  Jean received her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City.  To learn more about her practice, please visit her website at: