Eating fruits and vegetables in season brings added benefits

Seasonal products are nutritious and waistline friendly

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 November, 2014, 10:14am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 November, 2014, 10:14am

This time of the year brings cooler weather and a craving for heavier comfort foods like hearty stews and creamy pasta. But the season also serves up a bumper crop of fruits and vegetables, from pears to pumpkins, that are nutritious and waistline friendly.

Eating according to the seasons is much better for you, because seasonal foods have a higher nutritional content, says Lisa Fossey, nutritional therapist at The Nutrition Clinic.

"By eating freshly harvested fruits and vegetables, you will be rotating your foods and ensuring a diverse diet," she says.

"It has been suggested that the availability of foods all year round has contributed to the increase in food allergies and intolerances, higher levels of obesity and modern chronic diseases such as type-2 diabetes."

At Grassroots Pantry, a vegetarian restaurant in Sai Ying Pun, executive chef and director Peggy Chan fills her menu with in-season local organic ingredients rather than what can be found throughout the year at supermarkets.

"We eat according to the season, as our bodies react to the season," says Chan. "In the winter, our body temperature drops, and produce such as root vegetables that have a lot of starch and fibres will help keep us warm."

Fill your plate with a rainbow of seasonal foods, says Sally Poon, a registered dietitian at Personal Dietitian. She says: "Include five different colours from different foods daily so you get a variety of nutrients."

What are the best foods for autumn? Here are the experts' top picks.

Pumpkin

At just 25 calories, six grams of carbohydrate, and one gram of protein per half-cup serving, pumpkin is a healthier alternative to mashed potato, says Fossey.

It's rich in beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A - providing 140 per cent of the daily recommended intake per serving. The vitamin is needed for healthy skin and eyes. It is also an antioxidant that can help lower the risk of some diseases and fight the signs of ageing, says Poon.

Pumpkin is also rich in vitamin C, which is important for a healthy immune system, hormone production and collagen formation, says Fossey.

"Choose firm, bright well-coloured pumpkins. The deeper the colour, the more beta-carotene they contain," says Fossey.

Don't throw away the seeds, as Fossey says they're a good source of tryptophan, which is needed to make serotonin, which is important for mood and sleep. "Sprinkle them on salads, or roast them and season with sea salt and black pepper," she says.

Sweet potato

Like pumpkin, sweet potato is a nutritious carbohydrate. "Sweet potatoes are more nutritious than their white counterparts, and have a lower rating on the glycaemic index, which measures a food's impact on your blood sugar levels. This makes them a good choice for diabetics, or those wanting to lose weight," says Fossey.

A half-cup serving of sweet potato contains 120 calories, 29 grams of carbohydrate and two grams of protein. It also provides 520 per cent of your daily vitamin A needs, and 35 per cent of your vitamin C requirement.

"Sweet potatoes contain carotenoids that may help reduce the risk of eye disease, some cancers and heart disease," says Poon.

Eat it with the skin on, as this contains the fibre and most of the nutrients, says Fossey. She suggests baking it in the oven and topping it with hummus, or feta cheese and beetroot.

Pear

Most people eat this raw as a snack, or juiced into a drink, but pears are also great cooked and in stews, desserts, stir-fries or baked dishes, says Poon. "Pears provide dietary fibre, carbohydrates and many minerals and vitamins, including vitamin C."

Each pear contains 100 calories, 27 grams of carbohydrates, one gram of protein and six grams of dietary fibre, while also providing 15 per cent of the recommended daily vitamin C intake.

Walnut

The walnut is the only nut that contains a significant amount - 2.5 grams per 30 gram serving - of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid with benefits to the heart and brain.

"The mix of alpha-linolenic acid, phytonutrients, micronutrients and fibre in walnuts provide an array of health benefits including reducing risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cognitive impairment," says Poon.

Last month, an animal study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that a diet including walnuts may have a beneficial effect in reducing the risk, delaying the onset, slowing the progression of, or preventing Alzheimer's disease.

Eat a small handful as a healthy snack, or sprinkle walnuts or walnut oil on salad, Poon says. "Adjust your diet as needed to account for the calories from walnuts [185 calories per serving], or walnut oil [120 calories per tablespoon], to prevent undesirable weight gain."

Apple

An apple a day can keep the doctor away because it's high in a soluble fibre called pectin. "Pectin can help lower cholesterol levels, balance blood sugar levels and feed the bacteria in the gut to support digestion and overall health," says Fossey.

Although they are available year round, fresh apples are in abundance in the autumn. Spice up a plain apple by topping it with nut butter, or adding it to a salad with walnuts and blue cheese.

Make your own healthier alternative to potato chips: thinly slice an apple, sprinkle with cinnamon and bake in the oven at a low temperature, or dry in a dehydrator.

Beetroot

Beetroot has been used to treat many things such as fever and constipation. Research suggests it can lower blood pressure, boost athletic performance and improve the quality of life for heart patients. The reason for beetroot's nutritional prowess lies in the nitrates it contains. The amount of nitrate in one 70ml bottle of beetroot juice is about the same as found in 100 grams of spinach. "Dietary nitrate lowers blood pressure, thereby helping to protect the heart," says Poon.

Research published in the Journal of Nitric Oxide, Biology and Chemistry on college American football players showed that beetroot juice increases blood flow to fast-twitch muscle fibres - those used for fast acceleration and sprinting.

Beetroot is also a source of phytonutrients called betalains, which provide antioxidant, detoxification and anti-inflammatory support.

Cauliflower

It may look big and bulky, but cauliflower is a lightweight, with just 13 calories per half-cup serving.

Part of the family of cruciferous vegetables and related to broccoli and cabbage, cauliflower contains nutrients that support liver detoxification.

"It also contains indole-3-carbinol, which can support healthy oestrogen metabolism, and may help protect against hormonal cancers such as breast cancer," Poon says.

She recommends eating it lightly steamed rather than boiled. Bake it with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and black pepper, and top with parmesan for a tasty side dish.

Peggy Chan's sprouted buckwheat salad with tahini-za'atar

The sweetness of pumpkin is accentuated in this recipe with the Middle Eastern spice blend called za'atar, which executive chef Peggy Chan prepares in her vegetarian restaurant Grassroots Pantry. It contains a mix of herbs, including thyme, sumac, cumin, coriander, fennel, anise and cinnamon.

 

Serves two

600 grams pumpkin

30ml extra virgin olive oil

4 sprigs dried thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

300 grams buckwheat groats

1 litre water

150 grams wild arugula

1 bunch fresh mint

1 bunch flat leaf parsley

50 grams dried cranberries (chopped)

30ml lemon juice

60ml extra virgin olive oil

50ml tahini

50ml lemon juice

1 piece garlic, minced

6 leaves fresh mint

½ tsp chilli powder

1 tbsp za'atar

50 grams toasted pine nuts

 

1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Wash, peel and cut pumpkin into 2.5cm by 7.5cm pieces. Toss in the extra virgin olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper. Lay on a tray and roast until thoroughly cooked and slightly charred (about 20 minutes).

 

2. Bring one litre of water to a boil. Season with a pinch of salt. Place washed buckwheat groats into boiling water, and simmer on a medium heat for 15 minutes. Drain then run the groats under room temperature water until they are cool.

 

3. Wash and rinse the arugula, mint and parsley. Roughly chop the mint and parsley.

 

4. For lemon vinaigrette, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

 

5. For tahini za'atar dressing, whisk together tahini, lemon juice, garlic, mint, chilli powder, za'atar, salt and pepper into a creamy dressing consistency.

 

6. Toss together buckwheat groats, arugula, herbs and cranberries in lemon vinaigrette. Place salad on top of pumpkin, drizzle with the dressing, and garnish with toasted pine nuts.

 

Chan will hold a three-course cooking class on Sat, Nov 29. For more details, go to prunedeliworkshop.com