Eating locally produced, seasonal vegetables and fruit can be better from a nutrition and taste point of view. Why? Shona Wilkinson, Nutritonist at Superfooduk.com explains, “This is because they can be picked at their prime, allowing their full flavour and nutrient profile to develop, and eaten within a few days so the nutrients and flavours are retained. They can also grow naturally, requiring fewer interventions such as fertilisers and artificial temperature control. In contrast, produce grown in other countries and transported is often picked before it’s ready, and stored for potentially months at a time, artificially preserved with gases and cold temperatures. It’s no wonder that a lot of it tastes bland!”
What’s more, seasonal vegetables and fruits are better equipped to give us what we need at the specific time of year. “For example, autumn and winter vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips and leeks are ideal for warming stews, and are often higher in carbohydrates to keep us comforted through the cold season. The more watery vegetables and fruits that tend to grow in summer are lighter and better for hydration,” Wilkinson adds.
Eating local and seasonal is also better for the environment, of course, cutting down on CO2 emissions created by transporting food around the world, and requiring fewer chemicals. “When shopping seasonal, try out farmer’s markets for the freshest produce. Or if shopping at a supermarket, make sure that your produce is at least grown in the UK, preferably in your local area,” Shona adds.
Here are the top seasonal vegetables and fruit … make sure you include them in your diet this Autumn!
There’s nothing better than biting into a freshly picked Cox’s or Russet apple. “As well as their delicious flavour, apples are high in the flavonoid quercetin, which can have anti-inflammatory activity; and they also contain anti-ageing catechins like those found in green tea. Levels of both these are likely to be much higher in naturally grown fruits that are eaten just a few days after they’re picked,” Shona explains.
Snack on apple slices smeared with nut butter, or with a slice of cheese. Russets are perfect for this.
Stew sliced red cabbage (see point 3) with sliced apples to make a delicious side dish for your roast dinner. Bramley apples are a great choice for cooking.
Parsnips are a fantastic autumn and winter vegetable – a classic for roasting in particular. Dr Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading Nutritionist and author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar says, “Parsnip is a source of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin c, folate and potassium”.
Roasted parsnips make a great side dish with your Sunday roast. Chop them into wedges and coat with olive oil or melted coconut oil, sea salt, black pepper and a few pinches of paprika. Roast the wedges on a baking tray for 45–60 minutes or until soft inside.
Make parsnip pancakes by finely grating two large or four small raw parsnips and mixing well with a beaten egg, salt and pepper, and optional chopped herbs such as chives. Cook like normal pancakes, until browned on both sides.
3. Red cabbage
Shona says, “Red cabbage is high in glucosinolates – natural compounds that are thought to have a powerful protective effect for the immune system. Red cabbage in particular is rich in anthocyanins too – the red pigments also found in red berries – giving it an extra anti-inflammatory and antioxidant advantage.”
Swap your bread for red cabbage cups. “Red cabbage cups are easy to transport, and packed full of antioxidants. You also save at least 200 calories per sandwich. All you need to do is fill each large red cabbage leaf with your usual sandwich filling,” says Lily Soutter, Nutritionist and weight loss expert at Lilysoutternutrition.com.**
Make a delicious healthy coleslaw by mixing finely sliced raw red cabbage, grated carrot and apple and a small amount of finely sliced red onion, dressed with lemon juice, with fennel seeds, pumpkin seeds or chopped walnuts, salt and pepper.
Our favourite autumn orange vegetable. “Like carrots and sweet potatoes, it’s a great source of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene can be converted in the body into vitamin A, which is vital for a strong immune system over winter. It’s a lower-calorie, lower-carb alternative to sweet potatoes and most other root vegetables,” says Shona.
Cassandra Barns, Nutritionist adds “Vitamin A is also one of the most important nutrients for skin integrity (meaning skin that is firm, resists damage and can heal quickly). Beta carotene itself may also help to prevent free radical damage to our cells that can result in ageing, as it works as an antioxidant.”
Wash and chop a pumpkin into wedges (no need to remove the skin). Season with salt and pepper and coat with olive oil. Roast for one hour or until soft.
Make a simple warming pumpkin soup with peeled cubed pumpkin, onions, celery, ginger and vegetable stock.
5. Brussels sprouts
Did you know that Brussels sprouts contain more vitamin C than oranges? Shona says, “As they’re in the cabbage family, they also contain protective glucosinolates, as well as sulphur compounds that can support detoxification. Make sure you don’t overcook them – there’s nothing worse than a limp sprout – and cut off the end of each sprout before cooking, as this is the bitter part.”
Dr Glenville adds, “They may also be supportive for hormone balancing, especially in women, because they contain a substance called indole-3-carbinol that has been found to balance oestrogen levels.
Halve and steam your Brussels sprouts until just al dente (about 5 minutes) then top with grated cheese and grill until the cheese starts to turn golden.
Halve Brussels and put them in a large bag (e.g. freezer bag) with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Shake well to coat. Roast them in a single layer on a tray for around 20 to 25 minutes, shaking the tray once or twice in the middle of cooking.
Plums are rich in antioxidant phenols. Make it a priority to find locally grown plums from a market. “There’s a big difference between plums picked when they’re ripe – sweet and juicy –and the ones you buy at the supermarket, which are often tasteless or sour!” Shona adds.
Stone and chop fresh plums into quarters, top with natural yogurt and a drizzle of honey for a healthy dessert.
Make beef and plum stew – an ideal slow cooker recipe for autumn.
Kale is a favourite of health-foodies worldwide, so is popular year-round. But if you can find locally grown kale in autumn, that’s the best time to buy it. Shona says, “Kale is a fantastic source of vitamin C, vitamin K to support strong bones, glucosinolates like those found in cabbage and Brussels sprouts, and plenty of fibre to support digestion and keep cholesterol in check.”
Lily adds, “With an outstanding nutrient profile you can come close to getting your RDA of anti-inflammatory vitamin A, K and C in just one cup! Kale tastes great steamed, cooked in soups or stews or even juiced.”
Make your own kale crisps. Steam kale for around 10 minutes. Sauté a chopped clove of garlic for a minute or two. Toss the cooked kale with the sautéed garlic, a pinch of chilli flakes, a tablespoon of olive oil and sea salt.
Leeks contain a polyphenol called kaempherol, which may be protective for the heart and blood vessels. Leeks, onions and garlic (the allium family) are also rich in sulphur compounds like those found in cabbage and Brussels sprouts, which can support detoxification.
Make a warming leek, potato and celeriac soup – all these are seasonal autumn vegetables.
Buttered leeks make a delicious side dish. Remember butter isn’t unhealthy in moderation, and you’ll only be using a small amount per serving.
From a health point of view, cranberries are best known for helping to prevent urinary tract infections. Dr Glenville explains:
“It was originally believed that cranberry juice reduced the symptoms of cystitis by making the urine more acidic – obviously not a desirable effect, as it is the acidic urine that causes the burning sensation. We now know that cranberries work in a completely different way. It seems that certain substances in cranberries can stop bacteria such as E. coli from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract. For bacteria to infect your urinary tract, they must first stick to the mucosal (mucous membrane lining) walls of the tract. If they are unable to do so, they cannot multiply and are flushed from the body when you urinate.”
But this is not their only benefit! Shona adds, “Their anthocyanins – the red pigments like those found in other berries and red cabbage, and other compounds such as resveratrol may also have protective antioxidant action. Although most cranberries are commercially produced in North and South America, they can also be grown in the UK and picked in autumn.”
Make your own cranberry sauce to accompany roast turkey or chicken. It’s not just for Christmas! Keep the sugar content low to maximise the health benefits, or try using xylitol (a low-GI alternative) instead of sugar.