A Mass General nutritionist outlines health benefits and cooking tips associated with produce that comes with the New England fall season.

Though the days are getting shorter and the temperature is dropping, there’s still an assortment of produce growing in New England. The change in season ushers in a new crop of fruits and vegetables to help keep you healthy. Here are a few noteworthy options for fall and how to easily incorporate them into your diet.

Butternut Squash

Butternut squash contains disease-fighting properties thanks to the carotenoids it contains. These protective plant pigments provide color to yellow, orange and red produce. Diets high in autumn-hued fruits and vegetables are also associated with reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. The carotenoids found in the squash support a healthy immune system too. They get converted to vitamin A, which helps immune cells create antibodies to fight pathogens, like viruses. The good news: a little goes a long way. 1 cup of squash provides over 100% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A.

While butternut squash can look intimidating to prepare, it’s fairly easy to cook.

While butternut squash can look intimidating to prepare, it’s fairly easy to cook. Forget peeling it. Simply slice the vegetable lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and roast it at 400 degrees with the cut sides down until the flesh is easily pierced with a knife. (Use foil for the pan and brush the cut sides with oil to minimize sticking.) Once cooked, it is easily separated from its peel and can baked into muffins, drizzled with a little maple syrup, added to soup, or served as a simple side dish.

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are another protective fall vegetable to focus on. They contain glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds that have been linked to lower rates of cancer. Research suggests this could be because they help eliminate toxins, like the byproducts of pollution, from the body. While the sprouts have a reputation for being stinky and mushy when boiled, you don’t have to cook them. They can be thinly sliced raw and tossed with dressing, like you would coleslaw. It’s easy to make your own vinaigrette using a ratio of one 1 part acid to 3 parts oil. Try this tangy version: whisk 6 tablespoons of olive oil into 2 tablespoons of lemon juice (make it creamy by adding Dijon mustard — you won’t need more than a teaspoon or so). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Instead of offering [cauliflower] as a vegetable that almost always gets neglected on veggie trays, add a few florets to your next smoothie.

Cauliflower

Though its glucosinolate content isn’t quite as potent as the amount found in brussels sprouts, cauliflower is still a cruciferous vegetable worth highlighting. Roasting it at 400 degrees with olive oil, salt and pepper takes about 20 minutes and will caramelize the vegetable, imparting an almost nutty taste. It can also be eaten raw. But instead of offering it as a vegetable that almost always gets neglected on veggie trays, add a few florets to your next smoothie. The vegetable’s mild flavor blends seamlessly with stronger smoothie ingredients like peanut butter, berries, and cocoa powder. It also helps keep the drink creamy. It’s okay to be skeptical — start with 3 or 4 florets and you won’t look back.

Red Grapes

Red grapes contain anthocyanins, another protective plant chemical found in many red and violet-hued plants. Higher intakes of these compounds have been associated with lower levels of inflammation in the body. This could explain why some studies suggest anthocyanin-containing foods may help defend against chronic diseases, like heart disease. Research suggests consuming at least ½ cup per day of anthocyanin-rich fruits, like red grapes. Grapes are generally low prep and can be added to savory dishes too. Slice them into chicken salad or add some to a seasonal salad with nuts and some roasted fall vegetables, like squash or cauliflower.

Higher intakes of apples have also been associated with reduced risk of heart disease.

Apples

Higher intakes of apples have also been associated with reduced risk of heart disease. Studies suggest benefits ranging from lower levels of bodily inflammation to reduced cholesterol. One large apple is actually a good source of vitamin C too, which helps protect immune cells, and provides over 15% of the recommended daily dose of fiber. They are convenient for snacking, but can also be added to salads for a sweet crunch and work well paired with cheese and nuts. Baked apples are a comforting, quick fall dessert, as well. Keep it simple and leave the skin on – that’s where most of the protective plant compounds reside.

Emily Gelsomin, RD, LDN
Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN

Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN, is a senior clinical nutrition specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. As a registered dietitian, she counsels on medical nutrition therapy on an outpatient basis and is co-director of Be Fit, the hospital’s employee wellness program.

Jointly sponsored by The Clubs at Charles River Park and MGH Nutrition and Food Services, the 10-week program focuses on helping participants “Be Fit and Eat Right.” Every ten weeks, employees from different departments within the hospital compete with each other as they make a commitment to Be Fit. Through the creation of a social environment at the workplace, participants are supported to make progress in personal lifestyle changes with the help of a unique support system that includes a dedicated nutritionist and personal trainer.

Be Fit strives to create a milieu of wellness that extends beyond the 10-week curriculum by offering features to those who are not part of the intensive program. This includes the creation of Choose Well, Eat Well, a rating system designed to help both employees and patients increase awareness of healthy choices at retail eateries within the hospital. It also includes a monthly e-mail with a timely nutrition tip.