There are many good reasons to choose your foods seasonally, and contrary to popular belief, there are many foods in-season during the fall.
Seasonal foods will taste fresher and their nutrition will be at its peak level, as opposed to foods picked prior to ripeness, which are then chilled and put into storage for days or weeks. As they sit, both their flavor and nutrient levels diminish.
Meanwhile, in-season foods will typically be available in abundance, which means prices tend to go down, making seasonal eating easier on your wallet. It's good for the environment, too, because in-season foods are often locally grown and available from farmer's markets or other direct-to-you venues (like community-supported agriculture programs).
And in the grand scheme of living, eating seasonally allows you to be a part of the natural ebb and flow of nature. According to the ancient science of Ayurveda, for instance, seasonal eating helps with digestion, because it favors easier-to-digest foods in the winter when your body is hard at work burning energy to keep you warm (and therefore theoretically has less energy to devote to digestion).
If you eat seasonally year-round, it will even automatically create a varied diet that provides your body with a diverse palate of nutrients to keep you going strong. Still, just because a food is in-season doesn't make it healthy, which is why I've featured 15 of the best in-season foods for fall.1
1. Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts contain sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates, which your body uses to make isothiocyanates. These activate cancer-fighting enzyme systems in your body. Brussels sprouts have been linked to the prevention of a number of cancers, including colon cancer,2 ovarian cancer,3 and others.
One study even found that compounds in Brussels sprouts may trigger pre-cancerous cells to commit suicide, which suggests adding more of this superfood to your diet could be a powerful anti-cancer strategy.4
Brussels sprouts also have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, useful for fighting both chronic oxidative stress and inflammation.
They help to support your body's natural detoxification system and are an excellent source of vitamins K and C, and good source of fiber, manganese, potassium, choline, and B vitamins. Brussels sprouts are in season from September to March.
Compared to other commonly consumed fruits in the US, apples ranked second for highest antioxidant activity. However, they ranked highest for the proportion of free phenolic compounds, which means they are not bound to other compounds in the fruit and therefore may be more easily absorbed into your bloodstream.5
Notably, much of apples' antioxidant power is contained in the peel, where you'll find antioxidants like catechin, procyanidins, chlorogenic acid, ploridizin, and more. Eating apples has been linked to a lower risk of chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and dementia.
It's best to eat apples in their whole form, as this will give you the synergistic blend of nutrients and fiber the way nature intended, yielding greater health benefits than apple juice. Apples are in season from August to November.
Also, four in five of us are insulin resistant and you now are if you are overweight, diabetic, have high pressure, or taking a statin drug. If you have insulin resistance, then it is best to limit apples to one small one a day or even avoid them until you resolve your insulin resistance.
Cauliflower contains sulforaphane, a sulfur compound that has also been shown to kill cancer stem cells, thereby slowing tumor growth. Some researchers believe eliminating cancer stem cells may be key to controlling cancer.
For instance, research has shown that combining cauliflower with curcumin (the active compound in the spice turmeric) may help prevent and treat prostate cancer.6
Cauliflower is also anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich, and may boost both your heart and brain health. Eating cauliflower will provide your body with impressive amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, beta-carotene, and much more while supporting healthy digestion and detoxification. Cauliflower is in season from September to June.
4. Sweet Potatoes
Orange-colored sweet potatoes owe their appearance to the carotenoid beta-carotene. As an antioxidant, beta-carotene can help ward off free radicals that damage cells through oxidation, which can speed up aging and make you vulnerable against chronic diseases.
This antioxidant can help support your immune system, as well as lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. Research shows that sweet potatoes can help regulate blood sugar because of their ability to raise blood levels of adiponectin, a protein hormone created by your fat cells, to help regulate how your body metabolizes insulin.
Sweet potato extract is said to help reduce inflammation in brain and nerve tissue throughout your body. The phytonutrients within sweet potatoes also influence fibrinogen, an important glycoprotein required for blood clotting.
Together with thrombin and fibrin, balanced amounts of fibrinogen are important for wound healing and blood loss prevention. Sweet potatoes are in season from September to December.
The primary source of pomegranate's benefits come from its antioxidant content, particularly ellagitannin compounds like punicalagins and punicalins, which account for about half of the pomegranate's antioxidant ability. It's also an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin C, with one pomegranate providing about 40 percent of the daily requirement for this vitamin.7
In fact, according to a 2008 study, which compared the potency of 10 different polyphenol-rich beverages, pomegranate juice scored top billing as the healthiest of them all.8 Pomegranates contain three types of antioxidant polyphenols, including tannins, anthocyanins, and ellagic acid, in significant amounts.
Pomegranate's antioxidant activity is known to inhibit cell proliferation and invasion, and promote apoptosis (cell death) in various cancer cells.9 The antioxidants in pomegranates may also help to reduce inflammation that contributes to the destruction of cartilage in your joints, a key reason for the pain and stiffness felt by many osteoarthritis sufferers.
One study even found that pomegranate extract blocked the production of a cartilage-destroying enzyme.10 Many people enjoy pomegranates alone as a snack, but you can also sprinkle the arils (the juice-filled seed sacs) over salads or cooked dishes. Inside each aril is a crunchy fiber-rich seed. While some people spit them out, you can eat them whole, seed and all. Pomegranates are in season from August to December. So how do you get out the arils? The POM Council recommends this simple three-step process:11
- Cut off the crown, then cut the pomegranate into sections
- Place the section in a bowl of water, then roll out the arils with your fingers (discard everything else)
- Strain out the water, then enjoy the arils whole, seeds and all
Turnips contain a type of phytonutrient known as indoles, which may help fight cancer. One type in particular, brassinin, has been shown to kill human colon cancer cells.12 Turnips are also rich in fiber. Just 100 calories' worth of turnips can give you 25-40 percent of your daily fiber requirement. While turnip root is rich in nutrients and antioxidants, it is a starchy vegetable and therefore should only be eaten in moderation. The greens, on the other hand, can be eaten in generous quantities (although admittedly they are quite bitter).
Turnip greens are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and manganese, but it's their vitamin K content that really stands out. One cup of turnip greens will give you nearly 600% of your recommended daily value of the nutrient. Vitamin K is a powerful regulator of your inflammatory response, and along with the anti-inflammatory plant-based omega-3s found in turnip greens (in the form of alpha linolenic acid, or ALA), make this vegetable an inflammation-fighting powerhouse. Turnips are in season from September to April.
Rutabaga, a cross between a turnip and a cabbage, are rich in fiber and vitamin C (one cup contains 53% of the daily recommended value). Rutabagas are also members of the cruciferous family of vegetables, which are rich in antioxidants and anti-cancer phytonutrients. Rutabagas are also an excellent source of potassium, manganese, B vitamins, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Rutabagas are also a good source of zinc, which is essential for immune support and may help protect your body from the effects of stress. As a mild-tasting root vegetable, rutabagas work well roasted or baked, and can serve as a nutrient-rich substitute for potatoes. They can also be eaten raw along with a dip, such as hummus. Rutabagas are in season from October to April.
8. Winter Squash
Winter squash contains an impressive amount of vitamin K1 (not K2) – 457 percent of the daily value per serving. Vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant, is beneficial for your skin, vision, and mucous membranes and may protect against certain types of cancer. Squash is also rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, B vitamins, calcium, and magnesium. It even contains a respectable amount of plant-based omega-3 fats. Because winter squash has such a thick skin, it can be stored for months. Try it paired with healthy spices like cinnamon and ginger. Winter squash is in season from October to February.
Pumpkin is a type of winter squash but deserves special mention. It is an excellent source of carotenoids, including beta-carotene (which converts into vitamin A in your body). Pumpkin is also rich in fiber, with three grams in a one-cup serving, and you can consume the seeds, too, for additional benefits (like immune system and prostate support). Other notable nutrients in pumpkin include vitamin C, potassium, riboflavin, copper, and manganese, along with vitamin E, B vitamins, folate, iron, and phosphorus. Taken together, pumpkin provides a powerful blend of nutrients that work together to synergistically benefit your health. As reported in Nutrition Research Reviews:13
"Pumpkin is one of the well-known edible plants and has substantial medicinal properties due to the presence of unique natural edible substances. It contains several phyto-constituents belonging to the categories of alkaloids, flavonoids, and palmitic, oleic and linoleic acids. Various important medicinal properties including anti-diabetic, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and others have been well documented."
When using pumpkin in your cooking, you needn't resort to canned. Simply wash the pumpkin's exterior, scoop out the seeds and pulp, and roast it, whole, in a 350°F oven for one to two hours, until tender. You can also cut it in half and place it, cut side down, on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven for one to two hours. Then, simply scrape out the tender flesh and discard the rind.14 Pumpkin is in season from October to February.
These root vegetables resemble carrots but are whitish in color and have a sweet, nutty flavor. Parsnips are rich in nutrients like fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamin C. Eating foods rich in potassium is important because this nutrient helps offset the hypertensive effects of sodium. An imbalance in your sodium-potassium ratio can lead to high blood pressure and may also contribute to a number of other diseases, including heart disease and stroke. Parsnips are in season from October to April.
Pears are rich in vitamin C and copper, and are on of the highest-fiber fruits (one medium pear contains about 5.5 grams of fiber). Fiber plays an essential role in your digestive, heart, and skin health, and may improve blood sugar control, weight management, and more. People who ate a diet high in white-fleshed fruits like pears or apples also had a 52 percent lower risk of stroke, according to an American Heart Association study,15 likely due to their fiber and phytochemical contents. Pears are in season from August to February.
Also, four in five of us are insulin resistant and you now are if you are overweight, diabetic, have high pressure, or taking a statin drug. If you have insulin resistance, then it is best to limit pears to one small one a day or even avoid them until you resolve your insulin resistance.
Rich in phytonutrients that appear to protect human DNA from free-radical damage, kiwifruit is also an excellent source of antioxidant vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene. Kiwifruit is also a good source of fiber, potassium, magnesium, copper, and phosphorus. One cup of kiwifruit contains 273% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C, which is five times that of an orange. Kiwifruit is in season from September to March.
Grapefruits are an excellent source of vitamin C and also contain pantothenic acid, copper, vitamin A, fiber, potassium, biotin, and vitamin B1. Grapefruit is also a good source of the dietary fiber pectin and the carotenoid phytonutrient lycopene. Lycopene's antioxidant activity has long been suggested to be more powerful than other carotenoids such as beta-carotene.
Research has even revealed it may significantly reduce your stroke risk (while other antioxidants did not). Lycopene has also been shown to have potential anti-cancer activity, likely due to its antioxidant properties. Studies have shown that people with a diet high in lycopene have a lower risk of certain cancers, particularly prostate cancer. Grapefruit is in season from September to April.
Tangerines are rich in antioxidant flavonoids, vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, and potassium. They also contain the healthy fiber pectin and, if you eat the white tissue between the segments, even more soluble fiber that may offer protection to your heart. Notably, nobiletin, a citrus flavonoid isolated from tangerines, appears to prevent atherosclerosis16 and may also help prevent the buildup of fat in your liver.
Dates are a rich source of fiber and potassium, along with B vitamins, vitamins A and K, copper, magnesium, and manganese. There are also at least 15 minerals in dates, including selenium, along with protein, 23 types of amino acids and unsaturated fatty acids including palmitoleic, oleic, linoleic, and linolenic acids. One study even concluded, "In many ways, dates may be considered as an almost ideal food, providing a wide range of essential nutrients and potential health benefits."17
Dates are in season from September to December. One caveat: dates should be eaten only in very limited amounts because they are high in fructose. One medium date (Deglet Noor style) contains 2.6 grams of fructose. My recommendation is to keep your total fructose intake below 25 grams of fructose per day, if you're in good health, and below 15 grams a day, including that from fruit, if you struggle with insulin resistance.
Also, four in five of us are insulin resistant and you now are if you are overweight, diabetic, have high pressure, or taking a statin drug. If you have insulin resistance, then it is best to limit dates to only a few a day as they are very high in fructose or better yet even avoid them until you resolve your insulin resistance.
The following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh seasonal foods in your local area, raised in a humane, sustainable manner. If you want to get the freshest seasonal produce possible, you can also try your hand at growing it yourself by planting a winter garden.