7 Seasonal Foods with Impressive Health Benefits
7 Seasonal Foods with Impressive Health Benefits
By Vital Plan Posted 11-04-2020
Reviewed by Bill Rawls, MD
Medical Director of Vital Plan.

Halloween is over and Thanksgiving is just around the corner, which means fall produce is on full display at your local farmers’ markets and grocery stores. Much of what’s in season this time of year is likely already in your regular meal and snack rotation, such as oranges, grapefruit, broccoli, and cauliflower.

But there are others that don’t get as much attention as they should when you realize the impressive and science-backed health benefits they bring to the table. (Alternatively, maybe they get a lot of attention — but never actually make it onto your plate.)

Here are seven seasonal foods you should put on your grocery list this November and beyond, what they can do for you to improve the health of your immune system, heart, brain, eyes, and so much more, and some recipe suggestions to inspire your taste buds.

Pumpkin

Pumpkin, pumpkin soup bowl and pumpkin puree in a saucepan horizontal

’Tis the season for pumpkin-flavored everything, some of which doesn’t even contain actual pumpkin (ahem, pumpkin spice lattés). And despite rumors of a pumpkin shortage this year, there’s plenty to go around: rain delayed the planting and thus the harvesting, but shelves should be stocked now, per a post from Libby’s Pumpkin. We say, the more pumpkin the better; here are some nutritional highlights:

Vitamin A

One cup of cooked pumpkin holds 245% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin A, which has been shown to improve immune function as well as vision and eye health as we get older.

Beta-Carotene

Your body turns this phytochemical (beneficial plant compounds) into vitamin A. It’s a powerful antioxidant, meaning it helps counter inflammation-causing free radicals. Plus, research has widely shown that a diet rich in food sources that contain the carotenoid can lower your risk for heart problems and cancer.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin

These two antioxidants are carotenoids like beta-carotene, and they’re vital to eye health. Lutein and zeaxanthin also help protect skin from damaging UV rays (though you still need to wear sunscreen).

Similar Superstars

Sweet potatoes and other winter squash like acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash contain similarly high levels of the same nutrients we highlighted in pumpkin.

pumpkin smoothie in glass

Try It Now! Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

To make this smoothie appropriate for Phase 1 of the Vital Plan Diet, simply skip the chia seeds.

Serves: 2
Vital Plan Diet Phase: 1 (with a modification) or 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:
2 cups almond milk
2 tbsp chia seeds
1 cup pumpkin puree
½ tbsp agave nectar
1 frozen ripe banana
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1½-2 tbsp grade-a organic maple syrup
½ cup ice

Instructions:

  1. In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse until smooth.

Mushrooms

close up of wild white mushrooms on table

Though they grow year-round, mushrooms are especially plentiful in the fall (except for morels, which are a springtime fungi). They’re hearty and rich, and they add a wonderfully savory umami flavor to meals. Mushrooms deliver:

Beta-Glucan

These specialized polysaccharides (carbohydrates) prime the immune system for working against harmful microbes. Taking a beta-glucan-rich supplement made from shiitake, maitake, reishi, and other mushrooms enhanced the immune response of mice exposed to the flu virus, according to one study in the Annals of Translational Medicine.

Selenium

This essential mineral and antioxidant plays a key role in healthy immune response and fighting infection, and it may help reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, and cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. About a cup of mushrooms contains 12 mcg (adults are recommended to get 55 mcg per day).

B Vitamins

Mushrooms are rich in the eight B vitamins, including riboflavin (B-2), folate (B-9), thiamine (B-1), and pantothenic acid (B-12). These nutrients are important for overall cell health, brain health, and supporting enzymes in the body to keep you energized.

mushroom soup in white bowl

Try It Now! Slow Cooker Cream of Mushroom Soup

This recipe comes to us courtesy of Patty Catalano and our
friends at Kitchn.

To make it ahead of time, roast the mushrooms up to 2 days in advance, and then refrigerate them in an airtight container until you’re ready to finish the soup. Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

If you’re in Phase 1 of the Vital Plan Diet, here are some simple modifications for making this recipe Phase 1-friendly:

  • Substitute extra virgin olive oil for the butter.
  • Omit the sherry.
  • Omit the cream, and use vegetable broth to adjust to a desired consistency.
  • Omit the lemon juice, or substitute it with a splash of rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar to give the soup a fresh zing.

Serves: 4
Vital Plan Diet Phase: 1 (with modifications)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5-6 hours

Ingredients:
1½ lb cremini mushrooms, sliced ¼-inch thick
4 tbsp (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
¾ tsp kosher salt
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 tbsp dry sherry
¼ oz dried porcini mushrooms, cut into ¼-inch pieces
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp dried tarragon
½ cup heavy cream, plus extra for serving
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Chopped fresh thyme or tarragon leaves, for serving

Instructions:

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 375°F. Place the cremini mushrooms on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with butter, sprinkle with salt, and toss to combine. Spread into a single layer. Roast until mushrooms are tender, beginning to brown, and most of the liquid has evaporated, 15 to 17 minutes.
  2. Transfer the roasted mushrooms and their liquid to a 3½- to 4-quart slow cooker. Add the onion, garlic, broth, sherry, porcini mushrooms, pepper, thyme, and tarragon, and stir to combine. Cover and cook on the LOW setting until the soup is fragrant and the dried mushrooms are very tender, 3 to 4 hours.
  3. Use an immersion blender, or transfer the soup in batches to a blender, and blend to desired consistency. Return to the pot if needed and cook on LOW for up to 2 additional hours. Before serving, stir in the cream and lemon juice. Ladle into bowls and garnish with an extra swirl of heavy cream and fresh chopped thyme or tarragon.

RECIPE NOTES

Make ahead: The mushrooms can be roasted up to 2 days in advance. Once cooked, refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to finish the soup.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Fennel

Raw fresh fennel on the rustic wooden table, selective focus

Licorice fans, rejoice! Fennel — which carries a mild anise- or licorice-like flavor — is in peak growing season in fall and winter. It’s a highly versatile plant in the kitchen: The bulb is great raw, roasted, or grilled in salads and slaws; the stalks can be chopped and added to soups, stews, and chowders; and the fronds or greens on top are great in pesto, salsas, curries and vinaigrettes.

Vitamin C

Another powerful antioxidant and immune-supporting nutrient, vitamin C is also essential for the generation of collagen, a protein in skin, blood vessels, muscle, joints, brain, and any structural tissue that holds the body together.

Bitter Flavor

It’s not a nutrient per se, but the bitter attributes of fennel have digestive benefits. There are bitter receptors throughout your digestive tract, and activating them stimulates production of enzymes that break down food, the churning action of the stomach, and movement in the GI tract.

Antibacterial Properties

Fennel extract and seeds have been shown to have antibacterial activity against four foodborne pathogens such as E. coli thanks to phytochemicals like flavonoids such as quercetin, apigenin, rutin, and phenolic acids.

Brussels Sprouts

organic brussels sprouts for healthy food

They get a bad rap in the flavor department, but Brussels sprouts are actually quite delicious when cooked right — as in not just steamed or boiled. Roasting is generally a crowd pleaser; try tossing them in a little olive oil and a mix of sweet and savory ingredients such as apple and bacon or hazelnuts and dates and then roasting until they’re crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.

Vitamin C

Surprise! These little guys actually have more vitamin C than an orange — 1 cup of sprouts packs in 124% of your daily recommended value.

Vitamin K

This vitamin doesn’t get much time in the limelight compared to the Cs and Ds of the world, but K plays a key role in blood clotting and bone building. Keep in mind that it’s fat soluble, meaning your body can’t break it down if fat isn’t present, so try cooking your Brussels with a little olive oil or sprinkling them with some Parmesan.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fish or — even better — krill oil is probably what comes to mind when you think about omega-3 sources, but if you don’t eat seafood, Brussels sprouts should be on your go-to list as they have a high level of one type of omega-3 called ALA (135 mg per half cup). Omega-3s are an essential nutrient, meaning your body can’t produce them so you have to get them from your diet. They help fend off a lot of unwanted health issues including inflammation, heart attack, mood disorders, joint pain, and cognitive decline.

Beets

Raw Organic Red Beets Ready To Eat

These brilliant red veggies are kind of an unsung nutritional hero, and they deserve more showcasing on our plates, too. You can eat them raw; try grating them into salads and soups, just be sure to peel off the tough outer skin first. But more often you’ll find them either pickled (great on falafel sandwiches!) or roasted (classically with goat cheese).

Nitrates

Dietary nitrates found naturally in beets have blood pressure-lowering effects. The nitrates are converted into nitrous oxide in your body, which dilates blood vessels. And the benefits are quick: Research shows that eating beets can significantly lower blood pressure within a few hours of consumption, particularly systolic blood pressure (when your heart relaxes, the top number in your reading). That said, the benefits also fade quickly, so you’d need to eat beets regularly to sustain the desired effect.

Betalains

These reddish pigments help give beets their vibrant color, and they may also have anti-inflammatory properties. More research is needed, but one small study found that consuming a betalain-rich beet root concentrate significantly improved knee discomfort and joint function.

Manganese

One 3.5-ounce serving of beets boasts 16% of your daily recommended manganese intake. An essential trace element, manganese is a cofactor of many enzymes that play multiple roles in the body, including metabolizing cholesterol, glucose, and carbohydrates; forming bones; and healthy reproduction and immune response.

Cranberries

Cranberry close-up.

In peak season now through the end of the year, cranberries can do so much more than play tangy sidekick to turkey once a year. Try adding some to your oatmeal during the final minute or two of cooking, make a cranberry butter, or use them to add a little tart to sweet baked goods like pound cake or banana bread.

Quercetin

Cranberries are a top fruit source of this antioxidant, which has many impressive properties. One research review in the journal Nutrients points to quercetin’s antiviral, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory activities.

A-Type Proanthocyanidins

These are the phytonutrients that give cranberry juice its reputation for helping to prevent urinary tract infections. Studies suggest they attach to trouble-making E. coli bacteria in the bladder lining and urinary tract, making them easier to flush out of the system before infection occurs.

Vitamin C

One cup of whole cranberries delivers 13.3 mg or 22% of your daily C needs. We’ve talked about vitamin C already, but here’s one more thing to know, especially during cold and flu season (aka right now): When you’re sick, your body burns through a lot more vitamin C, so it’s important to restock your stores — especially because the nutrient supports the various functions of cells in your immune system.

cranberry relish in white bowl

Try It Now! Roasted Cranberry Relish

This recipe comes from Vital Plan’s own Emily Grimes, a certified professional chef and Manager of Customer Insights at Vital Plan. It’s great as a turkey or poultry condiment, but don’t stop there: It’s also super tasty mixed into yogurt, oatmeal, or granola, spooned over apple pie or ice cream, blended into a smoothie recipe, or on it’s own! The relish keeps in the fridge for up to a week, or it freezes well.

Serves: 4
Vital Plan Diet Phase: 2
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:
12 oz fresh cranberries
Zest of one orange (organic is best)
¼ cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup maple syrup
Dash of sea salt
¼ tsp ground ginger or cinnamon (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Heat the oven to 350℉.
  2. Rinse and dry the cranberries.
  3. In a medium bowl large enough to hold all of the ingredients, add the zest, juice, syrup, ginger, and salt and stir to mix.
  4. Add the cranberries and stir gently to cover with the sauce.
  5. Cover a 9×13 baking sheet with parchment paper or foil, and pour in the cranberry mixture. (Paper or foil makes for easier cleanup, as the sugars do caramelize.)v
  6. Place the sheet on the middle rack of the oven and bake until the cranberries just soften and plump, 15- 20 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan, about 15 minutes.
  8. For chunkier relish, drain the excess liquid. For a saucier relish, keep as much liquid as desired. (If the sauce gets overly browned, however, discard.)
  9. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Pomegranates

Composed halves of ripe pomegranate with bright shiny ruby-colored seeds on rough board

There are two main ways to enjoy fresh pomegranate — by eating the seeds, which have a slightly sour flavor like cranberries or cherries, or by drinking pomegranate juice. Cutting open a pomegranate to access the seeds can be pretty messy, and the juice can stain, so don’t be afraid to watch an online tutorial for tips. (We like this one from Food & Wine.)

Or, just buy the seeds ready to eat at the grocery store. They go well on salads, yogurt, and oatmeal, or blended into smoothies.

Punicalagins

These potent antioxidants, found in the juice of the pomegranate, were shown to give the juice three times the antioxidant activity found in green tea and red wine.

Punicic acid

Found in the seeds and seed oil of pomegranates, punicic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid with many beneficial properties. Research suggests it may help reduce fasting blood glucose levels and prevent insulin resistance, both precursors to diabetes. It also appears to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, as well as antimicrobial activity against MRSA, Candida albicans, and more, among other benefits.

 

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References
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16. Maryam Salami et al. “Inhibitory effect of different fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) samples and their phenolic compounds on formation of advanced glycation products and comparison of antimicrobial and antioxidant activities.” Food Chemistry. 2016 Dec 15;213:196-205. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2016.06.070.
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About the Medical Director
Dr. Bill Rawls
Dr. Rawls is a licensed medical doctor in North Carolina and a leading expert in integrative health. He has extensive training in alternative therapies, and is the Medical Director of Vital Plan, a holistic health and herbal supplement company in Raleigh, NC.
  • Dr. Bill Rawls

    ABOUT BILL RAWLS, M.D.

    Dr. Rawls is a licensed medical doctor in North Carolina and a leading expert in integrative health. He has extensive training in alternative therapies, and is the Medical Director of Vital Plan, a holistic health and herbal supplement company in Raleigh, NC.

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