Why seasonal superfoods make autumn the healthiest time of year

From pears to Asian greens, autumn is a season of healthy abundance.
From pears to Asian greens, autumn is a season of healthy abundance. Photo: William Meppem

For many of us in Australia, summer was fleeting and the winds and colours of autumn have finally arrived.

While our delicious sweet stone fruit and crisp summer salads may be on the way out, the good news is that there is also an influx of nutrient-rich seasonal fruit and vegetables that offer plenty of nutrition.

This means that colourful, antioxidant-rich vegetables such as leafy greens, beetroot, eggplant and capsicums will become more widely available, while we munch on crisp, crunchy pears and apples and reap the benefits of citrus loaded with vitamin C.

In fact, you could argue that autumn is the season that wins nutritionally with its seasonal produce.

Queen Garnet plums

Developed in Queensland, Queen Garnet plums are in season until early April and are a true superfood. With seven times the antioxidants of regular plums and four times the amount of vitamin C, Queen Garnets have been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body. Perfect enjoyed as fresh, delicious fruit or preserved and used over several months, for anyone with high blood pressure or inflammatory conditions, Queen Garnets are an exceptionally smart choice nutritionally this time of year.

William Meppem – Sun, 15. October 2017 12:00 AMBok choy with garlic sauce_1550.jpg***EMBARGOED FOR SUNDAY LIFE, OCTOBER 15/17 ISSUE***
Adam Liaw recipe : Bok choy with garlic sauce
Photograph by William Meppem

Adam Liaw's bok choy with garlic sauce recipe. Photo: William Meppem

Asian greens

If you have ever walked past a market stall that specialises in Asian greens, one of the things you may have noticed is just how many different varieties there are. Some of the more familiar names include bok choy, Chinese broccoli and choy sum but there are more than 30 different varieties of Asian greens we can easily incorporate into our weekly meal roster. Exceptionally rich in vitamin C and B group vitamins including folate, magnesium and beta carotene, Asian greens also have relatively high amounts of the minerals calcium and iron. As these greens are also relatively low in oxalic acid, these trace minerals are more readily absorbed in Asian greens compared to other leafy green vegies. From an energy perspective, Asian greens are also a superfood, as their high-water content means that they are also exceptionally low in kilojoules with just 80-125 kilojoules per 100-gram serve, meaning you can literally enjoy them to your heart's content.

Apples and pears

It is not by chance that doctors have encouraged us for years to enjoy a daily serve of these temperate fruits. A closer look at the nutritional content of both apples and pears reveals they are both exceptionally good choices healthwise. Offering slowly digested carbohydrates, 4-6 grams of dietary fibre per serve and a range of vitamins and minerals all for just 420 kilojoules per piece, apples and pears are associated with controlled blood glucose levels, improved digestion and blood fats thanks to their especially high amounts of soluble fibre. The other benefit of choosing an apple or pear to snack on is that they are among the most filling foods you can find, especially when you enjoy the fibre-rich skin and eat them whole.

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With intuitive eating, choosing broccoli can be an act of self-care rather than a diet obligation.

Adam Liaw's roasted broccoli with chilli, garlic and parmesan. Photo: William Meppem

Cruciferous vegetables

A large group of vegetables that includes kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage, this group of vegies regularly finds itself on superfood lists thanks to their powerful anti-cancer properties. Here, is the group of nutrients called the glucosinolates and the isothiocyanates, which are antioxidants that have been shown to slow the growth of cancer cells in the body. Also exceptionally rich in folate, vitamin K, vitamin C and vitamin A, these vegies are rich sources of dietary fibre and are very low in kilojoules. Including at least one to two serves of these key vegetables is an easy way to boost your daily intake of these important nutrients. There are also different benefits from eating this group of vegetables raw and cooked, so feel confident in serving these vegies in a range of different ways from salads to juices, or roasted and fried, to reap all the nutritional benefits they have to offer.

Capsicum

Red capsicum is a rich source of carotenoids, the group of antioxidants known to play a powerful role in helping to down-regulate a number of inflammatory pathways in the body. Individuals who have had a higher intake of carotenoids during their lives have been associated with lower risks of mortality from common disease states including heart disease, cancer and stroke in large population-based health studies. Red capsicums are another great vegie snack teamed with hummus or cucumber dip.

Christmas salad recipes for Good Food online November 2018. Beetroot tabbouleh recipe. Please credit Katrina Meynink.

Katrina Meynink's beetroot and herb tabbouleh. Photo: Katrina Meynink

Beetroot

The rich, bright colour of beetroot gives indication of the density of the vitamins it contains, with high amounts of the antioxidant's beta carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein as well as vitamins C and folate. Specifically, beetroot has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, and it is not just the beets but also the leaves of the beetroot that are edible and offer extra vitamin K, vitamin C and vitamin A. Research has also shown that the high levels of nitric oxide found naturally in beetroot helps to improve blood flow in general and shots of concentrated beetroot juice are used in the field of sports nutrition to help improve cycling sprint performance. Beetroot can be enjoyed raw or cooked but keep in mind that some of the folate may be destroyed in cooking and as such there are benefits to roasting beetroot lightly to enjoy in salads or juicing it raw for a vitamin and antioxidant hit.

Citrus fruits

Whether you love a beautiful fresh orange, sweet mandarin or a tart grapefruit with your breakfast, not only is citrus packed with vitamin C (a single orange offers close to your entire daily requirement of vitamin C) but a range of nutrients including anti-cancer molecules that appear to be protective against oral cancers. Also rich in dietary fibre, oranges and grapefruits are well known for being especially filling but to reap all the benefits citrus fruits offer you need to enjoy the fruits whole rather than juiced.

Susie Burrell is an accredited practising dietitian and nutritionist and holds a master in coaching psychology.