Fall festivals don’t just offer festive fun – they also serve up some healthy and delicious dishes for everyone.
It’s a wonderful time of year to take advantage of fresh produce that can provide important vitamins and health benefits, medical experts advise.
“Fall is a great time to do a lot of frying and baking,” says Stephanie Di Figlia-Peck, lead dietitian at Northwell Health Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York.
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“When roasted, certain fall fruits and vegetables become caramelized and this enhances their natural sweetness, making them more palliative and appetizing,” she also said.
Di Figlia-Peck, a certified diabetes care and education specialist who works with the organization POWERKidsccmc, a program to help educate individuals about healthy eating, said fall fruits and vegetables are versatile — and can provide robust flavors for many meals on cold, crisp autumn days.
“Dried fruit has a concentrated flavor, so they work well in baked dishes, casseroles and salads,” she said.
Here are some popular and healthy fall fruits and vegetables—as well as secrets on how to incorporate them into delicious dishes.
Not only do cranberry bogs serve as a popular spot for fall visits, they also provide a healthy fall side dish.
Dr. David Gentile, an integrative medicine physician at Oasis Integrative Medicine Practice in Rocky Point, New York, educates his patients about healthy eating and disease prevention. Cranberries are a wonderful high-antioxidant treat, he said.
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“They also contain d-mannose, a monocyte cure that is helpful in reducing the frequency of urinary tract infections by reducing the bacteria’s ability to adhere to the bladder wall,” he said.
“I personally love making a cranberry compote from scratch, with low-glycemic sweeteners,” he also said.
He added, “Cranberries are lovely as a side [during a] traditional Thanksgiving dinner, or even on some Greek yogurt as a nice dessert.”
Cranberries contain compounds such as anthocyanins, procyanidins and flavonols that have shown potential cancer prevention effects, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Science and Food and Agriculture.
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In addition, cranberries may have a positive effect on heart health and cholesterol while protecting against inflammation in the intestines and bacteria called H. pylori in the stomach, the study noted.
Apple picking is a popular way to get some healthy fruit on the table while having fun.
Apples may help protect against cardiovascular disease, researchers have found.
Consuming a medium-sized apple a day can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation, according to a study in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.
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“Apples are a great low-glycemic fruit with quercetin, flavonoids, and polyphenols, which help with mast cell stabilization, allergies, and general antioxidant benefits,” says Gentile.
“Apples are good for cleaning the mouth teeth when we chew the apples. They are convenient to carry as a snack, and they are good to use with other meals, baked together with meat and/or healthy desserts,” he also said.
Dr. Ken Zweig, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown and George Washington University medical schools in Washington, DC, told Fox News Digital, “An apple a day can actually keep the doctor away.”
“As a doctor, I joke that apples are my nemesis, but I actually have one every day.”
Zweig, also a physician at Northern Virginia Family Practice in Arlington, Va., said, “Apples are high in fiber, vitamin C and other beneficial compounds.”
He added that “recent studies have shown that apples can lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease and even prevent diabetes. As a doctor, I joke that apples are my nemesis, but I actually have one every day.”
Pumpkin picking is high on the list of things to do for many families and households during the fall season — and the fruit can help create delicious and healthy family meals.
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“Most of us think of pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin muffins when we think of this fall fruit—and yes, it’s a fruit— [but] none of [those things are] healthy,” Zweig told Fox News Digital, referring to muffins, donuts and more.
“But roasted pumpkin, pumpkin soup and pumpkin seeds can be quite healthy,” he said.
Pumpkin is loaded with fiber and vitamins, Zweig also said, and it’s usually low in calories.
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Laura Feldman, assistant professor of nutrition and director of the didactic program in dietetics at Long Island University in Brookville, New York, told Fox News Digital, “Pumpkin are very high in beta-carotene, which is a form of vitamin A.”
Beta-carotene, she added, “helps you see clearly and also acts as a powerful antioxidant.”
When cooking with pumpkin, “be sure to use regular pumpkin rather than pumpkin pie filling to avoid added sugar,” Feldman said.
Roasted pumpkin seeds are a healthy and delicious snack that’s also high in nutrients, including zinc, which she said supports your immune system.
Pumpkins can be a healthy comfort food on a cold fall day, Gentile said.
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“They are visually appealing [and] whole foods high in beta-carotene, which is a very good source of antioxidants.”
In addition to being used in traditional baked goods, pumpkins can be used to make soups, which Gentile described as “a cozy bowl full of wonderfulness.”
Sweet potatoes are in season this time of year—and are another great way to sneak nutrients into a fall menu.
“Sweet potatoes are a wonderful way to enjoy a baked potato with a lower glycemic index than traditional white potatoes,” Gentile said.
“In addition to all the wonderful benefits of antioxidant flavonoids, sweet potatoes add color and nutrition to a meal.”
Although sweet potatoes may be considered healthy, they are typically high in calories, Zweig said.
“Sweet potatoes are a starch, so don’t rely on them for weight loss,” he said.
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Zweig agreed that they are a good alternative to white potatoes, as they are lower in calories and higher in vitamins than regular white potatoes.
“Again, a lot depends on how these are prepared, so adding lots of butter or brown sugar, as we often do at Thanksgiving, defeats all the nutritional benefits of this food,” says Zweig.
Peak season for beets is late summer to late fall — and studies show this fall delicacy can help lower blood pressure.
Beets contain nitric acid, Gentile said, which helps with vasodilation, the process that expands blood vessels in the body and improves blood flow.
Because beets are a source of nitrate, they may play a role in brain health. Studies suggest that a diet rich in nitrates can have a beneficial effect in improving cognitive brain function.
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Beets are also a great source of betaine, which helps with digestion, Gentile told Fox News Digital.
“They’re high on the glycemic index, but are good when eaten as either an appetizer or a small side,” Gentile said.
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He added this recipe tip: “Beets are delicious, especially when baked. They go great with goat cheese.”