Nothing Says “Autumn” Like These Nutritious Fall Foods

As the leaves change color in colder weather, most people look forward to warm meals: soups, pasta, baked dishes, and hot desserts. These fall foods aren’t limited to pumpkin spice lattes. Cranberry, pecan, and turkey dishes can also put you in the autumn spirit.

Although people enjoy these foods every year, many don’t know about their health benefits. Apples and pears aren’t just for snacking; they also nourish your brain and heart. Both sweet potatoes and white mashed potatoes promote gut health. Learn the health benefits of your favorite fall foods, and you’ll discover even more reasons to enjoy the season!

Which Food Strengthens Teeth? Cranberries!

As a native autumn food in North America, cranberries make their way into several fall dishes. Most conversations about cranberries surround their prevention of UTIs, although a lesser-known benefit is that this fruit whitens our smiles.

Bowl of cranberries and cranberry sauce on a festive table
Anjelika Gretskaia/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Anjelika Gretskaia/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In 2005, researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center discovered that the same compounds that inhibit UTIs also help oral health. Chemical compounds called proanthocyanidins dislodge plaque from teeth. In simpler terms, cranberry juice disarms that pathogens that cause tooth decay. So eating cranberry sauce averts both UTIs and cavities.

Here’s An Excuse To Eat Pumpkin Everything

Who thinks of fall without considering pumpkins? While many wait to eat pumpkins until after Halloween, you may want to enjoy them throughout the season. One cup of cooked pumpkin contains 245% of your recommended vitamin A.

Man holds a pumpkin in a pumpkin patch in Chicago, Illinois

One of pumpkin’s antioxidants, beta-carotene, is responsible for its high vitamin A content. Research in a 2016 issue of Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology reveals that beta-carotene has “an immune-enhancing effect” on our cells. In other words, eating pumpkins encourages a strong immune system that will guide us through flu season. Roasted pumpkin seeds also provide this benefit–and they taste amazing!

Pecans Protect Cardiovascular Health

What better autumn smell is there than a fresh pecan pie? While a pie may not be the most nutritious option, pecans are packed with heart-healthy benefits. A recent study in Nutrients noted that eating pecans every day improves one’s insulin activity, which can become a marker of cardiovascular disease.

Smoked Butter Pecans photographed in Washington, DC.
Deb Lindsey/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Deb Lindsey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Pecans are naturally high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats,” explained lead researcher Diane McKay, Ph.D. These “healthy fats” are known to fortify the heart. “Just one small change—eating a handful of pecans daily—may have a large impact on the health of these at-risk adults.”

An Apple A Day Keeps The Brain Healthy

At the beginning of autumn, apples come into season. People often go to orchards to pick fresh apples because they’re both tasty and vitamin-packed. But did you know that apples improve your neurological health?

Girl eating apple on a string, Los Angeles, California, 1949.
Camerique/Getty Images
Camerique/Getty Images

A recent study discovered a benefit to quercetin, one of the antioxidants present in apples. Quercetin reduces neuron death caused by inflammation, which would otherwise contribute to dementia and Alzheimer’s. And apple juice increases the production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that enhances memory.

Pick Pears To Heal Your Heart

While many orchard guests focus on apples, pears also grow in the thousands during fall. Add these sweet fruits to your smoothies or lunch bag to help your heart as well as your stomach. A 2013 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics concluded that pears may prevent heart disease.

Two pears with cut-out hearts placed on both of them

Pears contain a high amount of flavonoids, a diverse group of plant chemicals responsible for fruit and vegetable’s bright colors. In the study, researchers recorded that Chinese women who consumed high amounts of flavonoids had higher HDL-C, the “good” cholesterol that disposes of harmful cholesterol. Pears lower your cholesterol levels, which improves heart health.

Yep, It’s Turkey Time

Once autumn hits, Americans gather their recipes for a Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Along with protein, turkey provides several B vitamins. According to the USDA, two thick slices of turkey contain 61% of recommended vitamin B3, 49% for vitamin B6, and 29% of your daily vitamin B12.

Chefs cutting a cooked turkey

A meta-analysis in International Psychogeriatrics noted that B vitamins, especially B12, alleviate symptoms of depression. Moreover, the author asserts that these “prevent the onset of clinically significant symptoms of depression in people at risk.” Perhaps your turkey dinner will hand you more benefits than a nap.

Butternut Squash Provides Half Of Your Vitamin C Requirements

When autumn rolls around, many people eagerly anticipate a butternut squash soup or puree. But few know how nutritious these oddly-shaped vegetables are. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), one cup of butternut squash contains 50% of your recommended daily dose of vitamin C. One study in Nutrition in Clinical Care states that vitamin C enhances your immune system, supplies antioxidants, and repairs damaged body tissues.

Individual shots of 5 ingredients Butternut Squash
Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Butternut squash has more vitamin A, vitamin C, and B vitamins than pumpkins. Enjoy butternut squash as a base for pasta and soups.

Looking For A Detox Vegetable? Try Beets

While beets taste doesn’t work for everyone, they still appear in many autumn dishes. This deep purple vegetable detoxifies the body, according to naturopathic nutritional therapist Melissa Smith. “Beets contain a unique set of antioxidants called betalains,” Smith explains. “These compounds provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and even support the body’s detoxification process.”

A cook cuts a beet to make a vegetable paste, creation inspired by the French traditional fruit paste of Christmas
Pinterest/Emily Enchanted

According to a 2014 study in Hypertension, drinking a cup of beetroot juice every day also significantly lowers blood pressure in hypertension patients. But you don’t need to juice beet to enjoy it. You can also add them to a salad or stir fry.

White Potatoes Have Health Benefits Too

While some people gravitate to sweet potatoes, others want a classic mashed potato with their fall meals. White potatoes are high-calorie foods, so if you’re monitoring your calories, double-check your portion size. But nutritionist David Friedman, author of Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction, asserts that white potatoes still support your gut.

Person cooks chopped white potatoes on a stove

“The white spud is an excellent source of resistant starch, which feeds the friendly bacteria in your intestines,” Friedman explains. “White potatoes are a great source of high-quality protein, too, because of their superior amino acid complex.” In particular, white potatoes contain amino acids that aid cellular repair.

Persimmons Relieve The Burden Of Diabetes

Persimmons were once called “the fruit of the Gods” for their sweet, honey-like flavor. In a review of over 130 studies in the EXCLI Journal, researchers concluded that persimmons regulate blood sugar and blood pressure. They also decrease oxidative stress, all of which play a role in preventing Type 2 Diabetes.

Woman holds orange persimmons over her eyes

A single persimmon provides 20% of your daily recommended vitamin C intake. According to the review, this vitamin scavenges free radicals and decreases inflammation in the body. They believe that persimmon’s “bioactive components can be effective in reducing the burden of diabetes mellitus.”

Squash That Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti squash has risen in popularity with the emergence of squoodles (squash noodles), and they’re in season during fall. Unlike other squashes, spaghetti squash has the calorie count of a vegetable. One cup of cooked squoodles is only 42 calories, as opposed to the 220 calories in one cup of cooked wholegrain pasta.

Dragging a fork through cooked spaghetti squash to create squoodles
Pinterest/Cookie and Kate

According to the University of Delaware’s Food & Nutrition Education Lab, spaghetti squash also fortifies bone health. This squash houses nine bone-supporting minerals, including manganese, which builds up bone structure. One cup includes 8% of your daily manganese recommendation to fight off osteoporosis.

Treat Your Stomach With Sweet Potatoes

While sweet potatoes often make their big debut during Thanksgiving, they’re tasty to eat all year. Sweet potatoes contain two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Both refine your gut health.

Sweet potato gratin fresh from the oven
Ricardo Dearatanha/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Ricardo Dearatanha/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Soluble fibers absorb water and soften your stool. Insoluble fibers don’t absorb water; they add bulk to your gut, which helps your bowel movement. One cup of baked sweet potato (with the skin) provides 6.6 grams of fiber and plenty of antioxidants, both of which relieve intestinal upsets.

Hurry Up And Roast Those Chestnuts

Chestnuts usually pop up during the holiday season, but let’s face it–Christmas comes earlier every year. You can add richness to your meal and increase your energy by eating chestnuts. While most nuts have low carbohydrates, chestnuts have plenty: 45 grams per every three-ounce serving. Complex carbohydrates lend energy to your brain and body.

Freshly-picked chestnuts in Collobrières, France

A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that high-carb diets energize athletes, specifically long-distant runners. According to the study, other vitamins for vitality include magnesium, vitamin B, iron, and calcium, all of which chestnuts have. That’s how chestnuts supply your body with energy.

Artichokes Have More Antioxidants Than Most Other Foods

While artichokes are fully in season during spring, they have a mini-season in October that places them in many autumn recipes. In 2004, the USDA conducted its largest survey ever on the antioxidant count in commonly-consumed foods. Artichokes ranked in the top four vegetables and the top seven overall foods.

Naturally-grown artichoke with a ladybug on it in the United Kingdom

In a 2015 study in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, researchers found that artichoke extract prevents oxidative stress that contributes to breast cancer. A similar study in Oncotarget noted that artichoke leaf halted the growth of Malignant pleural mesothelioma, a rare, highly lethal tumor. Enjoy some artichokes this fall for a dose of cancer-fighting antioxidants.

Mushrooms Maintain Your Immune System

Autumn calls for warm dishes including pasta and stews, and mushrooms often end up in both. Recent studies agree that eating mushrooms can boost your immune system. According to one 2015 study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, participants who ate five to ten grams of shiitake mushrooms a day experienced improved immunity.

A chef cooks mushrooms for traditional Russian dishes
Sergei BobylevTASS via Getty Images

An earlier study in The Journal of Nutrition stated that mushrooms deflect salmonella. According to the author, mushrooms enhance a cell’s response time, which allows for faster immune function.

Celery Root Isn’t Celery, But It Is An Anti-Inflammatory

Despite its name, celery root isn’t the same vegetable as celery. Celery root, also called Celeriac, is a root vegetable that belongs to the same family as celery. It’s added to autumn soups to enhance the flavor. While chefs may not know it, celery root is also an impressive anti-inflammatory.

Raw celery root next to a dish made from it.

One cup of cooked celery root supplies 34% of your daily recommended vitamin K. This vitamin lowers inflammation in cells, specifically neurons. Researchers from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association assert that Alzheimer’s is linked to low amounts of vitamin K. You can enhance your meals and enjoy vitamin K by eating celery root.

Take One For The Turnip

Many people overlook this classic autumn cruciferous vegetable. A cousin to broccoli and kale, turnips have been used for centuries to ameliorate headaches, chest pain, and gonorrhea. Recent research even assigns turnips cancer-fighting benefits.

Raw turnips with the stems still on sitting on a table

In 2019, a study in the Journal of Food Science credited turnips for having “antitumor, antihypertensive, antidiabetic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, and nephroprotective effects.” The vegetable’s main constituents, Glucosinolates and isothiocyanates, protect against cancers. If you don’t know how to cook turnips, use them in place of potatoes, or add them to your soup.

Parsnips Promote Healthy Weight Loss

A delicious root vegetable, parsnips will transform the flavor of any autumn soup. They’re packed with fiber; one cup gives you 6.5 grams of soluble and insoluble fiber. While the U.S. recommends 15 grams of fiber per day, the American Heart Association encourages 25-30 grams.

A Teltow turnip pictured in Teltow, Germany
Ralf Hirschberger/picture alliance via Getty Images
Ralf Hirschberger/picture alliance via Getty Images

Not only does this aid your gut health, but it also promotes weight loss for those who aim to drop a few pounds. According to research in Nutrition Reviews, eating 14 grams of fiber per day lowers calorie intake by 10%. That helps people shed four pounds (1.9 kg) in only four months.

Bake Brussels Sprouts For Your Bones

Brussels sprouts are a favorite fall vegetable. Plus, they’re loaded with vitamin K. Half a cup of cooked Brussels sprouts supplies 137% of your recommended daily vitamin K, which significantly aids your blood health. A study review in Food & Nutrition Research reveals that vitamin K deficiency results in low bone mass, which may lead to osteoporosis.

Brussels sprouts, grown on the Weldon family farm in Balheary, Co. Dublin, are being prepared for supermarkets to sell over Christmas.
Brian Lawless/PA Images via Getty Images
Alessandro Arnaboldi/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Along with strengthening bones, vitamin K helps create coagulation, the formation of blood clots that stop bleeding. As a cruciferous vegetable, Brussels sprouts lower blood sugar. This is imperative to encouraging healthy bone and blood operation. However, those on blood thinners should limit their vitamin K intake.

Why Alaskan Salmon Is Good And Good For You

Many families enjoy a meal with fish throughout autumn, and salmon is a favorite. Salmon provides a substantial amount of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically the long-chain acids EPA and DHA. During a 2016 study in the Journal of Nutrition, hypertension patients experienced more regulated blood pressure after taking EPA and DHA as low as 0.7 grams. A 3.5-ounce piece of salmon contains 2.3 grams of these fatty acids.

Raw Alaskan Salmon filets being prepared for smoking on grill.
Edwin Remsburg/VW Pics via Getty Images
Edwin Remsburg/VW Pics via Getty Images

A meta-analysis of 16 controlled trials in Atherosclerosis indicates that omega-3s benefit our arteries. Consuming 0.45 grams to 4.5 grams of omega-3s improved arterial function in over 900 patients. Hence, one serving of salmon significantly aids your blood pressure and arterial function.