It's getting colder outside. Fall is the time when we pull our sweaters out of storage, start the fireplace and get cozy with some warm comfort foods like pumpkin pie, hearty casseroles, and creamy soups. Fall is also a great time to get a variety of healthy seasonal produce, and the holiday season makes it super easy to put together lighter meals that are still full of flavor and satisfy the stomach.
Whether you’re working toward weight-loss goals before the holidays or just trying to stay healthy and energized when comfort foods abound, here are 10 fruits and vegetables at their peak this holiday season that you should consider adding to your diet.
1. Spaghetti Squash
Spaghetti squash is lower in calories and carbohydrates than pasta, rich in nutrients and takes on practically any flavor you pair with it making it extremely versatile! It’s also a great lower-calorie, lower-carb alternative to classic spaghetti; 1 cup cooked spaghetti has 220 calories and 43 grams of carbs, while 1 cup cooked spaghetti squash has just 50 calories and 8 grams of carbs.
I like to substitute spaghetti squash in tomato- or pesto pastas and also under hearty meat and vegetable stews instead of rice.
The sweetness of persimmons is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth, while the fiber fills you up to keep you satisfied. It is also rich in vitamin C and vitamin A. Because they’re naturally sweet, you can pair sliced persimmons with Greek yogurt, a tablespoon of almonds and a sprinkle of cinnamon for a snack that’s low-calorie but tastes almost like dessert.
I love to cut the hard Fuyu persimmons in half, spritz a small amount of olive oil spray on the cut side, sprinkle them with cinnamon, and broil them in the oven for about 15 minutes.
They can also be thinly sliced with a mandolin and baked or dehydrated into chips.
3. Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes are inexpensive and can be used in everything from side dishes to dessert (think toasted wedges with peanut butter). “They’re rich in vitamin A and antioxidants called carotenoids, which support skin regeneration and may help fight cancer. Eating the sweet potato with its skin boosts your fiber intake and can help support gut health and keeps you full, which is really important for weight loss, the fiber for more stable blood sugar rise and to lower cholesterol.
An easy meal you can put together in under an hour combines sauteeing diced sweet potato (about 1 cup is equal to 30 grams carbohydrates, or 2 carbohydrate exchanges), lean ground meats for protein like lowfat turkey, beef or bison, mixing it into salad greens like arugula, and adding some avocado and oven roasted pecans for a crunch and some healthy fats.
4. Brussels Sprouts
These are in a class of vegetables that are labeled cruciferous. They are filled with cancer-fighting agents, fiber to keep you full, and loads of calcium, iron and many other vitamins and minerals.
When cooked right, the flavors and textures are mindblowingly buttery and delicious. I love roasting them at 400 degrees with a little bit of balsamic vinegar because it’s easy, tangy and kind of sweet without added sugar.
They are also delicious raw and shredded in addition to cabbage in a slaw.
5. Butternut Squash
Butternut squash is similar to sweet potato, but with fewer calories. Roasted squash is a great choice if you’re hungry for a large portion but want to say on track with your weight-loss goals, and leaving the skin on adds even more fiber, keeping you full for hours. Pine loves using butternut squash in protein- and fiber-packed soups, alongside chickpeas or lentils, green veggies and lean meats.
The quintessential Thanksgiving table is not complete without these ruby-colored jewels. When fresh, their acidic and astringent taste can turn anyone off. But when cooked they become soft, sweet and a little tart. These are very rich in Vitamin C, and low in sugar with only 4 grams sugar for one cup. They are high in antioxidants, higher than most berries, and there is substantial research suggesting that the main antioxidants, proanthocyanidins, can help reduce risk of urinary tract infections because of their acidity.
A great way to incorporate them into your daily routine:
Boil 1 cup cranberries with 1/2 cup water.
Once boiling, turn the heat down and let them simmer for 30 minutes.
Add 1 packet of Splenda or 4 drops of stevia, a splash of vanilla, and a dusting of cinnamon.
Add 1 cup dry oats (I use Steel-Cut style oats since they are higher fiber and better for lowering cholesterol than old-fashioned oats), and 2 cups water.
Turn the heat to low, put the lid on, and let this slow cook for another 20 minutes. Makes 4 servings.
I love to warm up a cold house by roasting some beets, nuts, and other vegetables in the oven. My favorite way to eat beets is to make a salad with roasted beets and pecans, goat cheese, and spinach. Beets are very are rich in antioxidants, great for digestion, and some studies suggest they are also great vasodilators, which may help to lower blood pressure.
Beets also have a natural sweetness, and though they affect your blood sugars a little, they can help keep sugar cravings to a minimum. And most importantly, adding variety to your salads to keep them interesting!
If you think pumpkin puree is just for pumpkin pie, think again.Pumpkin is filling because of the fiber and carbohydrates it provides. Be careful, though: 1/3 cup pureed pumpkin has the same amount of carbohydrates as a slice of bread!
I like to use it in anything from a pumpkin pie smoothie with plain nonfat greek yogurt, puree, pumpkin pie spice, and some stevia for sweetener. I'll sometimes whip it into French toast or pancake batter. If you don't have any whole pumpkins, shop for 100% canned pumpkin, not pumpkin pie mix, which has added sugar.
This cruciferous vegetable should be on everyone’s plate, especially in the fall when it’s in season. There are many research articles supporting the many potential benefits of broccoli. One cup of broccoli contains 2 grams of protein, which is particularly high compared with other veggies. I can't stress the benefits enough: Cancer prevention, digestion, DNA damage with aging, liver function, gut health, and detoxification.
The easiest way to improve the nutrient value of your meals while still eating what you love for the holidays is by filling up half of your plate with veggies (See: portioned plate) — broccoli can easily be added to pastas, rice, quinoa, salads and scrambled eggs.
Not only juicy and sweet little flavor bombs, they’re also versatile, being added regularly to salads, and as garnishes on top and mixed in to rice and all kinds of other side dishes and desserts. They are rich in potassium, folate and Vitamin K (important for blood clotting) antioxidants, especially vitamin C, and are great for reducing cancer and Alzheimer's disease risks.
Pomegranate seeds are rich in fiber, around 3.5 grams per serving, to help keep you full between meals. But be careful with these little red gems- 1/2 cup contains around 12 grams of sugar and 72 calories. So if you are not exercising after this tasty snack, they will swiftly spike your blood glucose. In Persian and Middle Eastern markets you can find concentrated pomegranate syrup which gives you the gift of pomegranates all year long! Always read the label, though, because they frequently add sugar in some brands of syrup.