We all know that eating seasonally benefits British growers but did you know it’s actually better for your health too? When produce is picked at its prime, it allows the full flavour and nutrient profile to develop, and when eaten within a few days the nutrients and flavours are retained. Seasonal foods can grow naturally and need fewer interventions such as fertilisers and artificial temperature control. Produce grown in other countries and transported is often picked before it’s ready, stored for months at a time and artificially preserved with gases and cold temperatures. This can often effect the taste, making it bland!
What’s more, seasonal vegetables and fruits are better equipped to give us what we need at the specific time of year. “Autumn and winter vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips and leeks are ideal for warming stews, and are often higher in carbohydrates to keep us comforted through the cold season. The more watery vegetables and fruits that tend to grow in summer are lighter and better for hydration,” explains Shona Wilkinson, nutritonist at Superfooduk.com.
Eating local and seasonal is also better for the environment as it cuts down on CO2 emissions created by transporting food around the world, and requires fewer chemicals. "When shopping seasonal, try out farmer’s markets for the freshest produce. Or if shopping at a supermarket, make sure that your produce is at least grown in the UK, preferably in your local area,” suggests Shona.
Luckily autumn is abundant with fruit and vegetables! Here’s our list of this season’s top nine!
There’s nothing better than biting into a freshly picked Cox’s or Russet apple. “As well as their delicious flavour, apples are high in the flavonoid quercetin, which can have anti-inflammatory activity; and they also contain anti-ageing catechins like those found in green tea. Levels of both these are likely to be much higher in naturally grown fruits that are eaten just a few days after they’re picked” Shona explains.
Snack on apple slices smeared with nut butter, or with a slice of cheese. Russets are perfect for this. Stew sliced red cabbage with sliced apples to make a delicious side dish for your roast dinner. Bramley apples are a great choice for cooking.
Parsnips are a fantastic autumn and winter vegetable – perfect for roasting. Dr Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading Nutritionist and author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar says, “Parsnip is a source of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin c, folate and potassium”.
Make parsnip pancakes by finely grating two large or four small raw parsnips and mixing well with a beaten egg, salt and pepper, and optional chopped herbs such as chives. Cook like normal pancakes, until browned on both sides.
3. Red cabbage
"Red cabbage is high in glucosinolates – natural compounds that are thought to have a powerful protective effect for the immune system. It’s particularly rich in anthocyanins too – the red pigments also found in red berries – giving it an extra anti-inflammatory and antioxidant advantage,” explains Shona.
Swap your bread for red cabbage cups. “Red cabbage cups are easy to transport, and packed full of antioxidants. You also save at least 200 calories per sandwich. All you need to do is fill each large red cabbage leaf with your usual sandwich filling.
“Like carrots and sweet potatoes, pumpkins are a great source of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene can be converted in the body into vitamin A, which is vital for a strong immune system over winter. It’s a lower-calorie, lower-carb alternative to sweet potatoes and most other root vegetables,” says Shona.
Wash and chop a pumpkin into wedges (no need to remove the skin). Season with salt and pepper and coat with olive oil. Roast for one hour or until soft. Alternatively make a simple warming pumpkin soup with peeled cubed pumpkin, onions, celery, ginger and vegetable stock.
5. Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts actually contain more vitamin C than oranges! “As a member of the cabbage family, sprouts also contain protective glucosinolates, as well as sulphur compounds that can support detoxification. Make sure you don’t overcook them – there’s nothing worse than a limp sprout – and cut off the end of each sprout before cooking, as this is the bitter part,” advises Shona.
Halve and steam your Brussels sprouts until just al dente (about 5 min) then top with grated cheese and grill until the cheese starts to turn golden.
Plums are rich in antioxidant phenols. Make it a priority to find locally grown plums from a market. "There’s a big difference between plums picked when they’re ripe – sweet and juicy –and the ones you buy at the supermarket, which are often tasteless or sour!" adds Shona.
Stone and chop fresh plums into quarters, top with natural yoghurt and a drizzle of honey for a healthy dessert. Make beef and plum stew – an ideal slow cooker recipe for autumn.
Kale is a favourite of health-foodies worldwide, so is popular year-round. But if you can find locally grown kale in autumn, that’s the best time to buy it. Shona says; “Kale is a fantastic source of vitamin C, vitamin K to support strong bones, glucosinolates like those found in cabbage and Brussels sprouts, and plenty of fibre to support digestion and keep cholesterol in check”.
Make your own kale crisps.Steam kale for around 10 minutes. Sauté a chopped clove of garlic for a minute or two. Toss the cooked kale with the sautéed garlic, a pinch of chilli flakes, a tablespoon of olive oil and sea salt.
Leeks contain a polyphenol called kaempherol, which may be protective for the heart and blood vessels. Leeks, onions and garlic (the allium family) are also rich in sulphur compounds like those found in cabbage and Brussels sprouts, which can support detoxification.
Make a warming leek, potato and celeriac soup – all these are seasonal autumn vegetables. Also buttered leeks make a delicious side dish.
From a health point of view, cranberries are best known for helping to prevent urinary tract infections. Dr Glenville explains, “It was originally believed that cranberry juice reduced the symptoms of cystitis by making the urine more acidic – obviously not a desirable effect, as it is the acidic urine that causes the burning sensation. We now know that cranberries work in a completely different way. It seems that certain substances in cranberries can stop bacteria such as E. coli from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract. For bacteria to infect your urinary tract, they must first stick to the mucosal (mucous membrane lining) walls of the tract. If they are unable to do so, they cannot multiply and are flushed from the body when you urinate.”
But this is not their only benefit! Shona adds, “Their anthocyanins – the red pigments like those found in other berries and red cabbage, and other compounds such as resveratrol may also have protective antioxidant action. Although most cranberries are commercially produced in North and South America, they can also be grown in the UK and picked in autumn”.
Make your own cranberry sauce to accompany roast turkey or chicken. It’s not just for Christmas! Keep the sugar content low to maximise the health benefits, or try using xylitol (a low-GI alternative) instead of sugar.
•For more health advice and recipes see Yours Magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday