That’s because “when you eat in season you incorporate a range of nutrients you wouldn’t consume otherwise,” says Angela Ginn, founder of Real Talk Real Food, a consulting practice for health-care corporations in Baltimore, Maryland.
So how can you make the most of the fall bounty? Incorporate the following diet tweaks guaranteed to keep you healthy throughout the colder months. (Lose up to 25 pounds in 2 months—and look more radiant than ever—with Prevention’s new Younger In 8 Weeks plan!)
“Cooking food slower and longer is the perfect way to creating satisfying meals that will comfort you as temps drop,” says Steinbock. Bust out your Crock-Pot or turn on your oven and start simmering. Short on time? Sautéing vegetables in olive oil, such as potatoes and pumpkin, can actually increase how many phytonutrients you absorb. A 2015 study published in Food Chemistry showed that sautéing vegetables in olive oil boosted their antioxidant levels in ways that boiling the same vegetables in a water/oil mixture didn’t.
Oatmeal and other hot cereals are a no-brainer this time of year. In general, whole grains such as oats are “great at lowering blood sugars and keeping you fuller longer,” says Ginn. Because they are full of fiber, whole grains require more energy to break down, thus increasing body heat. A 2010 study published in Food & Nutrition Research measuring the thermal effect of foods found that whole foods increased energy expenditure by 50%—warming you up andburning off calories.
“Larger beans that require longer cooking times pair nicely with colder weather,” says Ginn, who recommends dried beans, soaked overnight and simmered on low heat for several hours. “Beans are warming, fibrous, and a great source of protein,” she says. Black beans score the highest on antioxidant activity, according to a study in published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
“For optimal nutrition, we need a variety of color in our diets,” says Ginn. In fall, that means many shades of orange—so be sure to include carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and squash. Most orange-colored vegetables are a prime source of beta-carotene, which the body converts into Vitamin A. “Vitamin A helps skin, improves vision and boosts immunity,” says Ginn. Pumpkins come with the added bonus of seeds, delicious when roasted and chock full ofantioxidants, magnesium, and other nutrients. And don’t overlook the humble rutabaga, a cross between cabbage and turnips, which is high in fiber and works well as a low-calorie but uber tasty version of mashed potatoes.
Fats, such as olive, sesame, and coconut oil (we like this one), and ghee (Indian clarified butter), add rich flavor to fall produce. They also make the Vitamin A, E, and K, present in sweet potatoes, squash, broccoli, leafy greens, and cabbage easier to absorb,” says Ginn. So don’t skimp on the fat, regardless of whether you are baking, roasting, or steaming. Another plug: Fats, loaded with tryptophan, keep Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) at bay by supplying the body with serotonin—a neurotransmitter derived from tryptophan that influences mood. According to a study in Journal of Affective Disorders, tryptophan supplements were on par with light therapy as an effective treatment for SAD. Several studies suggest healthy fat levels in your diet play a critical role in keeping your energy levels high and mood elevated.
Once all the summer berries have been picked, you can still find great sources of Vitamin C in the form of citrus, like juicy grapefruits, oranges, clementines, and tangerines. “Vitamin C is important for your immune system, particularlyduring fall’s cold and flu breakouts, “says Ginn. And pink grapefruit’s rosy flesh derives its hue from lycopene, an antioxidant credited with fighting cellular damage.
“Spices, such as cumin, fennel, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger add warmth to fall meals as well as aid digestion,” says Steinbock. Squash tastes great when paired with nutmeg and cinnamon; cumin brings an added heartiness to cauliflower (plus it can help you lose 3 times as much body fat). Spices, gram for gram, are also a surprising source of antioxidants, packing a lot of nutrients into a mere pinch. Sip hot ginger with lemon, which is good for circulation and immunity (and tastes so good when it’s cold out that it may well trump hot cocoa as your favorite winter beverage).