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Nutrition in fall vegetables -- the more colorful, the better

Rich Bowen

As fall approaches, you might think of orange and red leaves falling from trees. As you visit the grocery store or farmer’s market, remember the edible seasonal foliage that comes in the form of colorful produce and is packed with vitamins and nutrients.

This week on “Take Care,” Johannah Sakimura discusses the best fall vegetable choices. Sakimura has a master’s degree in nutrition from the Columbia University Institute of Human Nutrition and writes the Sleuth column at Everyday Health.

“Color is a great indicator of nutrition,” says Sakimura. So while a broad spectrum of colors on your dinner plate is important, orange and red vegetables have their own advantages. Orange and red veggies are rich in carotenoids, an antioxidant that can also be converted into vitamin A. These vegetables include carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes.

“The dietary guidelines actually specifically call out to red and orange vegetables, and they encourage us to try and eat one red/orange vegetable most days a week,” Sakimura says.

You might be wondering how you can up your intake of red and orange vegetables. Great fall vegetable choices that are orange in color include pumpkins, orange winter squash, and sweet potatoes.

Edible pumpkins differ from the variety used for carving, in that they are often smaller, as well as much more flavorful. Sugar pie pumpkins and cheese pumpkins are two common varieties that are ideal for cooking and preparing. Roasted pumpkin is great added to pasta dishes, chili, and stew, while pureed pumpkin is a tasty addition to oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies and healthier baked goods.

Let’s not forget about those pumpkin seeds, though. While you’re carving your pumpkin, know that they are loaded with nutrition. These seeds provide healthy fats which encourage a healthy heart, are rich in minerals including iron, magnesium, and zinc and also contain fiber.

Orange winter squash, similar to pumpkin, is more nutrient dense than the summer squash. Orange winter squash, which comes in a wide variety, including acorn and butternut, provide potassium, important for blood pressure management, and fiber. Squash is a sturdier vegetable that should be stored in a cool place or cubed and frozen, and eaten within a few weeks.

Sweet potatoes are a starchier and more caloric choice than pumpkins or squash, but are nutritious nonetheless. When prepared in a healthy way, preferably baked rather than fried, sweet potatoes provide healthy amounts of fiber and potassium. Don’t throw those skins away, though, as this is where much of the fiber and nutrients are packed.

A healthy diet includes a variety of foods, but Sakimura encourages having fun while being healthy. Cooking with seasonal fruits and vegetables is a great way to add variety while experimenting with fun new recipes. Here's one of her favorites:

Credit Johannah Sakimura

Kabocha with Ginger and Orange

By Johannah Sakimura, MS RD

Kabocha (also called Japanese pumpkin) has an intensely sweet flavor and starchy, dense texture similar to that of sweet potatoes. In this simple preparation, orange juice highlights the squash’s natural sweetness and ginger adds a warm, festive note. This side dish is a wonderful accompaniment to roast chicken or pork tenderloin. If you have leftovers, mix into oatmeal or yogurt the next morning for a cozy fall breakfast.

1 medium kabocha squash (about 3 pounds), cut in half and seeds removed
1 large orange, juiced and zested
1 tablespoon minced fresh gingerroot
¼ cup toasted, chopped pecans

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Place the kabocha halves cut side down in a baking dish. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until flesh is very soft. Cool to room temperature.
  3. Scoop the kabocha flesh away from the rind and place in a large bowl. Mash with a fork until no large lumps remain.
  4. Combine the orange juice and ginger in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until slightly thickened. Stir in the orange zest.
  5. Add the orange juice mixture to the squash and mix well. Garnish with the pecans.