We might traditionally associate a rainbow of colors and vitamins in foods with spring and summer, but autumn has its fair share of abundantly nutritious foods. Confining foods to seasons seems almost foreign in today’s world, where artificial growing conditions and a globalized economy allow for any fruit & vegetable to be harvested and delivered during any season. Unfortunately, many vitamins are lost in the process of storage, transport and preservatives.
The body doesn’t build reserves of vitamins, so it’s essential to get a well-rounded serving of all vital nutrients every day. You can’t say you ate broccoli yesterday, so you don’t need greens today. While the body excretes excess vitamins, it doesn’t magically produce an essential amount unless you feed it. The easiest way to ensure you’re getting optimal amounts of nutrients is to eat an abundance of seasonal harvest and color code your plate. Different colored fruits and veggies provide unique combinations of vitamins and minerals.
Foods can be sub-divided into a total of four groups, with the fifth being ‘colorless’: red, orange/yellow, green, blue/purple, white/brown.
Red: Cranberries, pomegranate, red apples, red peppers, tomatoes
A red hue is a primary indication of the carotenoid, lycopene. Lycopene, most commonly found in tomatoes, promotes prostate and breast tissue health as well as provides protection against heart attacks. The association leads nutritionists and doctors to believe that foods rich in lycopene reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Vitamin C, folate and flavonoids (anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory) are other common components of red foods.Cranberries (which get their color from anthocyanins) also provide the benefit of tannins, which “prevent bacteria from attaching to cells.”*
Orange / yellow: Carrots, pumpkin, orange, lemon, yellow bell pepper, winter squash, sweet potatoes, persimmons
These foods are good sources of beta-carotene (antioxidants), beta-cryptoxanthin and vitamin C. The body can convert carotenoids derived from orange fruit and vegetables into Vitamin A, which not only aids with vision and immune system function, but also aids skin and bone health.
The orange/yellow group is also more likely to contain omega-3 fatty acids as well as aid in regulating our blood sugar levels.
Pumpkin, the royalty of autumn harvests, is also in this group. Since a pumpkin is 90% water and provides 20% of daily fiber intake, it is considered a dietary product, so eating higher quantities of the actual fruit won’t necessarily expand your waistline. It doesn’t raise blood sugar levels and helps normalize the metabolism in addition to providing a slew of vitamins and minerals: C, E, B1, B2, Potassium, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Copper, Zinc, Cobalt, Silicon. While carrots are attached to the beta-carotene classification throughout the year, pumpkins contain as much as 4-5 times the amount of beta-carotene as carrots.
Green: Green apple, green pepper, parsley, broccoli, basil, arugula, broccoli raab, brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, cucumber, escarole, fennel, scallions, kale, lettuce, oregano, zucchini, peas
Chlorophyll pigments green fruits and vegetables. These often receive the distinction of a superfood classification due to the high amounts of antioxidants. The antioxidants help detoxify the body while chlorophyll aids in delivering oxygen to the cells, removing free radicals in the process.
In addition to copious amounts of fiber and phytonutrients (protection against free radical damage, antiviral/antibacterial properties, and stimulation of detoxifying enzymes; apples are a good source), greens contain plenty of vitamins K, E, C and B.
Blue/purple: Beets, grapes, radicchio, chicory, chard stalks, cabbage
The darker the blue-black/purple hue, the higher the concentration of phytochemicals. Anthocyanin is responsible for the color and provides antioxidants aiding in heart health, blood pressure and healthy blood function.
These foods have a distinction for providing the body with “youth”, helping reduce the appearance of wrinkles as well as aiding in short-term memory and brain function.
White: Garlic, white grapes, pear, honeydew melon, cabbage, radishes, onions, turnips, potatoes, parsnips, mushrooms, horseradish, celery root, cauliflower, leeks
Contrary to popular belief, white/brown foods aren’t ‘nutritionless’. Flavonoids, powerful antioxidants that battle free-radicals, are a class of phytochemicals that are largely colorless. These foods help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
Onions and garlic are teeming with anti-inflammatory properties, chromium and selenium, while potatoes and cauliflower provide folate, vitamin C, K, and potassium.
Next time you go to your local farmer’s market or supermarket, remember to look for vibrant colors and strong aroma. Strong fruit and vegetable odors indicate a healthy variety of food free from excessive treatment. Try to purchase organic and local as often as possible, and make sure to clean all foods thoroughly prior to consumption. You are what you eat.
Get these in early fall since they’re approaching end of harvest season:
These foods are best throughout early and late fall:
Researched by Victoria Lavryshyn
* Quote from TodaysDietician.com
Feature Photo: Mert & Marcus Editorial “Into The Woods” for Vogue US Sept 2009