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As the "buy local" food movement has grown, so too has the awareness of the benefits of eating seasonally. The tastelessness of those January tomatoes after you've eaten one straight off the vine in August may have something to do with that too! But as those wonderful summer tomatoes vanish into memory, what is being harvested on farms right now that can add some fresh superfood punch to your diet. So many of the traditional fall favorites are also nutritional powerhouses.
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1. Apples have long been a fall staple. They're easy to snack on and easy to pack in a lunchbox. And we've progressed far beyond the days when "apple" meant just the common old red delicious variety, with dozens of different types now widely available. That old "Apple a day keeps the doctor away" adage didn't come from nowhere. Apples are one of the most antioxidant-laden fruits and can help lower your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and obesity-related diseases. Since most of that benefit is in the peel, you'll want to be careful and buy organic. Pesticides are frequently used on apple farms and cling to that peel.
2. Nutrient-dense kale is one of the best-known superfoods. And it's got a long growing season; even in northern climates, it can be harvested well after the first frost. In fact, it's heat that does a number on kale, while a little frost makes it sweeter and improves the flavor. Meanwhile, you're getting all those vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, which can help prevent heart disease and cancer, aid digestion, lower blood pressure and protect your eyesight. It's also low in calories and can be eaten so many ways, both cooked and raw, thrown into any salad, stir fry or stew as an added ingredient.
3. Cauliflower is a staple in those raw vegetable trays you find at all kinds of public events. It tends to get overlooked in favor of tomatoes and carrots, but it shouldn't be. Cauliflower contains sulforaphane, which has been shown to kill cancer stem cells and slow tumor growth. It's also full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients as well as a range of vitamins that boost your overall health. And it's in season all winter long.
4. What's a Thanksgiving dinner without sweet potatoes? This orange veggie is a great source of beta-carotine, yet another antioxidant that can help prevent and repair cell damage and bolster your immune system. They can help regulate your blood sugar, reduce inflammation and even help in healing wounds. Now is the perfect time for them; they are in season through the end of the year.
5. No fruit or vegetable says "fall" like the pumpkin, whether you carve it up for Halloween or eat it in pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. Another orange vegetable that has tons of beta-carotine as well as other carotenoids, it also provides a long list of other vitamins and minerals with health-giving benefits and lots of fiber. Together, they fight back against cancer, inflammation, diabetes and many other chronic diseases.
6. One of the great things about winter squash is that it stores for months with losing its taste or nutritional value. You can be eating it well into next year. There are many different varieties too, with different looks and tastes, all of which make a great addition to a roasted vegetable medley, maybe with some of those herbs you dried for use over the winter. A serving of winter squash provides 450 percent of your daily allotment of vitamin K1, which aids in blood clotting, building bone strength and preventing heart disease. It also has vitamins A, B, C and E, with antioxidants that protect against cancer.
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7. Turnips are another root vegetable with a long storage life, making them an all-winter-long edible. Rich in fiber, about 100 calories' worth can give you a third of your daily fiber requirement. In addition to cancer-fighting phytonutrients, turnips, like winter squash, are a powerhouse of Vitamin K, with one cup providing around 600 percent of your daily recommended intake. They go great with winter squash in that vegetable medley, which means you won't have to worry about your intake of this vitamin, only one of many turnips provide.
8. Cranberries are another Thanksgiving feast staple with lots of nutritional power in every spoonful. Among the health benefits they provide are preventing urinary tract infections in women, protection from stomach ulcers and other digestive tract problems, and like most of these superfoods, cancer-fighting antioxidants. Like turnips, they're rich in phytonutrients which have strong anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits. Although we don't usually eat them raw—and too frequently enjoy them in a sugar-laden sauce—raw is the way to go if you want the concentrated benefit of their interactive array of nutrients. There's a reason we associate them with Thanksgiving—their peak market season is October through December.
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