For us in Southern Ontario, summer means great weather filled with endless beach days and plenty of patio nights. It also brings garden vegetables grown in our own backyards, berry picking and trips to farmers’ markets on the weekend. So as we approach fall, we all begin to lament the end of the dog days of summer and, it seems, our supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. Fret not, fall gardens can be just as abundantly delicious and equally packed with health benefits!
Known for its exquisitely eye-catching autumn leaves and cooler temperatures, fall produces vegetables with those same magnificent hues. These rich colours, while enticing to look at it, also mean dense nutritional value. In fact, the deeper the shade, the better it is for you. The orange varieties, like butternut squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and carrots, are particularly high in vitamin A, while the dark leafy greens, like chard and kale, are rich in vitamin C. Finally, growing best in the spring and fall, the deep reddish-purple beet contains a significant amount of vitamin B.
Belonging to one of the largest groups of vegetables, squash are extremely diverse in variety and cooking methods. Along with vitamin A, squash also have high quantities of vitamin C, a fair share of protein and they are a great source of anti-oxidants and minerals like magnesium and potassium — all of which help to strengthen your immune system and cardiovascular health. Have you ever tried making butternut squash gnocchi? Normally, gnocchi is an Italian potato dumpling or pasta but by substituting the potato for butternut squash, you substantially increase the nutritional value of this popular dish. You can also bake butternut squash with a touch of cinnamon and simply eat the flesh out of the skin with a spoon. Top it off with some baked beans, grated cheese and a dollop of yogurt and it can easily be the centre star of your meal.
These days who doesn’t love sweet potatoes? High in vitamin A, vitamin C and fibre and rich in potassium, this vegetable packs a punch on the health metre, warding off anxiety, building strong bones and fighting signs of aging. Even though sweet potato is a starchy vegetable, it ranks low on the glycemic index, therefore, making it a great energy source that won’t spike your blood sugar. This is such a versatile vegetable, much like white potatoes, that you can roast or mash them, bake as fries or make chips. Try adding them to a Buddha bowl sautéed in coconut oil and served with wilted kale, black beans, avocado and tahini.
Kale has been touted as a super food because it is a great detoxifier, known to be a cancer fighter, and it is loaded with nutrients. Although you can find kale all year long, it is better to consume it in the fall and winter. As it matures in the colder months it becomes less bitter, and unlike most leafy greens, kale can survive our harsh winters. My favourite way to use kale is in pasta dishes. Simply sauté kale with minced garlic, diced onion and some of your favourite vegetables, toss with olive oil and mix with your favourite pasta. That simple and so nutritious.
Because of its bitterness, rapini is a vegetable that you must learn to love, but once you do, you are hooked for life. Rapini is also a cruciferous vegetable like kale, and closely resembles broccoli. Significantly high in vitamin K, rapini is also good source of many vitamins and minerals essential for good health. I love rapini sautéed in garlic, olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and red chili peppers. You will often find rapini cooked this way at Italian meals as a side dish or added to pastas. A great way to fortify any meal.
Beets are one of nature’s candies. They are naturally sweet and loaded with phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. Particularly high in folate (vitamin B), they also include a great variety of minerals and antioxidants. Beets are also known as the liver purifier. Therefore, they are great to add raw to salads, or roast them with an array of root vegetables, like turnip, carrots and potatoes, for a tasty main dish.
So instead of drowning your sorrows in that last bit of sangria because summer is over, remember that fall is the season for not only leather bombers, ankle boots and scarves, it also brings pumpkin spice lattes, butternut squash soup and sweet potato fries…okay, that last one you can eat all year round, but they taste extra good in the fall!
Written By Lucia Di Cesare
Registered Holistic Nutritionist