By Alissa Carpio
(Originally published in MET-Rx Magazine, Fall 2014)
Cooler temperatures, falling leaves, and football. Autumn is approaching! And with the change in weather and activities comes a change in food. Barbecues, salads and fruity drinks are fantastic during the hot summer months, but when the chill of autumn arrives, most of us gravitate towards comfort foods and darker, warmer drinks. Fall brings a fresh arrival of fruits and vegetables that really come into full flavor in September and October. Ten fall foods are highlighted here, including root vegetables, greens, winter squash and fruit. Classic favorites, as well as some less common – but equally delicious – options will be featured to kick up your fall fare and keep you on track with healthy eating this season.
1. Broccoli Rabe. Pronounced “rob” and also known as rapini, this cruciferous vegetable is the cousin of broccoli and boasts an amazing nutrient profile. Broccoli rabe is a very good source of vitamins A, C, E, K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, and a good source of vitamin B5, zinc and copper. Minerals include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese. Broccoli rabe can be steamed, sautéed or simmered. Cooking reduces bitterness, and this veggie goes well with garlic, red pepper flakes and olive oil.
2. Winter Squash. There are many varieties of squash that are fall-harvest ready. Acorn and butternut are probably the most common. Acorn squash is medium in size, acorn-shaped, and has a dark green and orange skin. Butternut squash is large, beige, and shaped like a bell. The skin on winter squash is tough and cannot be eaten. One of the easiest ways to prepare this food is by baking the squash in the oven, whole. The squash can be cut after cooking, and seasoned with salt, spices, butter or oil. Squash can be pureed with broth to make a delicious soup. It can also be mashed and added to muffins, pancakes and breads. Squash is a very starchy carbohydrate vegetable, so it’s great for your pre- or post-workout meal to help boost energy and restore glycogen. The starchiness makes it an excellent carb source for those following a grain-free or gluten-free diet. Squash is rich in vitamins A, C, B6, fiber and manganese.
3. Apples. It wouldn’t be fall without apples! And while most of us enjoy a great apple pie, apples can be prepared in a healthy way and still be delicious. Of course, they make a great snack paired with a protein any time of day. Apples have a unique composition of fiber and phytonutrients that work to regulate blood sugar, heart disease and blood fat levels. Apples contain fiber and vitamin C. For the best health benefits, eat apples with the skin. This helps you feel fuller and more satisfied and gives you the most fiber. One of the tastiest ways to enjoy apples is by making homemade applesauce. Wash, peel and core the apples, then add them to a crock pot turned on low with enough water to cover the bottom of the crock. Cook until you can mash the apples with a fork, then season with cinnamon and sweetener of choice. Applesauce can be added to breads, muffins, pancakes and even protein shakes.
4. Pears. This fall fruit doesn’t seem to be a part of many fitness fanatics’ diets, but it’s a great addition. Similar to apples, it can be made into pear sauce and added to baked goods. In the case of pears, research has shown the skin contains three to four times as much phenolic phytonutrients as the flesh alone. Pears are a good source of fiber and are low-glycemic, great for anyone wishing to control blood sugar levels.
5. Parsnips. These root vegetables are easy to spot in the store. They look like big, white carrots. Parsnips are rich in dietary fiber, folate and manganese, and are a good source of potassium. Parsnips can be cooked by steaming or simmering, but if you want to bring out the sweetness and flavor, try roasting them. Parsnips go well with carrots and potatoes. One cup of cooked parsnips contains 6g fiber and 110 calories.
6. Arugula. If you want to add some nutrients and some bite to your salads, try tossing in some rocket – another common name for this popular salad green. Arugula has a potent, peppery flavor, and is often the base for a sirloin salad with lemon vinaigrette. Not only is rocket delicious, but it boasts a nutrient profile that should have it at the top of your list for healthy picks. Inorganic nitrates help boost natural nitric oxide production. Plus, arugula is packed with vitamins A, C and K, along with calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese. Add it to other lettuces, such as romaine, spinach and iceberg, for a blend of texture and flavor, or find it as part of a spring mix blend. Arugula can be added to meats and savory dishes during the final few minutes of cooking, just until wilted.
7. Cabbage. Like most cruciferous vegetables, cabbage harvested in the fall has a sweeter, more pleasant flavor. Cabbage is a versatile food that can be eaten raw as a salad, juiced, or blended in a smoothie, fermented as sauerkraut, or cooked in a variety of ways. One-half cup of cooked cabbage contains 100% of the daily RDI for Vitamin K, along with respectable amounts of vitamins A, B6, C, E, thiamin, riboflavin and folate. Cabbage is a nice change to a typical physique competitor diet of broccoli, cauliflower and the like. Fermenting and cooking cabbage make it easier on the digestive system. Cooked cabbage pairs well with carrots and onion.
8. Pumpkin. What would fall be without the pumpkin? This ideal image of autumn is more than just a colorful item for your décor; pumpkin is a fun and festive way to add a lot of nutrients and flavor to your fare. Pumpkin can be purchased fresh, canned or frozen, but probably the most convenient option is canned. Canned pumpkin can be added to everything from protein shakes to pancakes. Cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice is a popular seasoning option with pumpkin. As an orange vegetable, pumpkin is rich in antioxidants, particularly beta-carotene. Pumpkin seeds make a delicious snack and are a good source of healthy fats, zinc and vitamin E. Try them roasted and lightly salted.
9. Turnips. This root vegetable yields a bitter taste that can be balanced out by cooking with sweet and mild foods, such as apple cider vinegar, carrots, honey, potatoes, ginger and garlic. Turnips can be shredded into salads or cole slaw, juiced, or cooked by roasting, steaming or boiling. The skin of a turnip can be eaten, or you can peel it with a vegetable peeler. The greens of the turnip can also be eaten, by juicing, chopping and adding to a salad, or cooking as you would any other leafy green – usually steaming or sautéing. While the turnip root is a good source of vitamin C, the green top additionally contains vitamins A and K, plus folate, calcium and lutein.
10. Beets. This dark purple root vegetable has created a recent buzz due to its performance-enhancing qualities. Beets’ large amount of inorganic nitrates lends it to help boost the body’s production of nitric oxide – a well-known performance enhancer. 300-500mL of beet juice or an equivalent of beet powder is enough to elicit the athletic benefits. Beets are medium on the glycemic index list, and are a rich source of manganese, folate, potassium, copper and dietary fiber. This root vegetable is also loaded with phytonutrients betanin and vulgaxanthin, which help combat inflammation and detoxify the body.
Recipe: High Protein MET-Rx Pumpkin Pancakes
MET-Rx High Protein Buttermilk Pancake Mix
1/2c canned pumpkin
1/8 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice
Honey or Sugar-Free Maple Syrup
Instructions: Prepare pancake mix according to directions, adding pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice to batter prior to cooking. Drizzle with honey or sugar-free maple syrup before serving.
Recipe: Apple Pie Breakfast Shake
2 scoops MET-Rx Protein & Oats, Vanilla Cinnamon
10 oz. unsweetened almond milk
Instructions: Mix all ingredients in blender or shaker until combined.
Recipe: Crock Pot Roasted Root Vegetables
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
2 large parsnips, peeled and cubed
3 large carrots, sliced into 2” pieces
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Fresh-cracked black pepper
2 tsp. dried rosemary
Mix all ingredients in a crock pot and toss to coat. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours (high for 4-5 hours), until fork tender.