I tend to have a pumpkin obsession this time of year. And it’s fueled by all the products from pumpkin bagels to body cream that are marketed in autumn. Nutritionally, pumpkin is a seasonal vegetable; it reaches its peak ripeness for harvest in these cooler days. Other produce abundant in the fall includes apples, beets and sweet potatoes.
Some carb-phobics mistakenly think they should avoid these foods because they contain carbohydrates. Here are some reasons why nutrition experts disagree with that thinking:
Pumpkins: Put ’em on your porch and they instantly improve your mood. Harvest and roast the seeds for a protein- and fiber-rich source of healthful fats. Scoop out the orange flesh and add it to soups and smoothies for a hit of beta carotene and vitamins C and E — potent antioxidants that protect us from the ravages of aging before our time. One-half cup of pumpkin puree contains just 25 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrate of which almost half is in the form of gut-beneficial dietary fiber.
Beets: A few facts about this misunderstood root vegetable: Beets are classified as non-starchy vegetables, meaning they are low in carbs and relatively high in fiber. We can safely eat every part of the beet — from its dark red root to its dark leafy greens. Beets are naturally rich in nitrates, but don’t let that scare you. Nitrates convert in the body to nitric oxide, a compound that keeps blood vessels flexible and may help control blood pressure. Roast them in a hot oven (yum!) or shred them raw and add to your fall salads. Saute the greens for a quick and fiber-rich side dish.
Sweet potatoes: If you ever wanted a healthful source of energy replenishment for these cool days of fall, here it is. Orange flesh indicates a rich source of beta carotene — a cell-protective compound that converts in the body to vitamin A, a nutrient essential for good vision and immune function. One medium sweet potato has about 24 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of which are dietary fiber that feeds the good bugs in our guts that fight the bad guys and help keep us well. Sweet potatoes are a nutrient-dense food because they pack a host of nutrients, including potassium (important for blood pressure control), calcium and vitamin C in just 100 calories for a medium baked potato.
Apples: Don’t pass up this seasonal favorite, especially if you can pick ‘em right off the tree. Cut up a few slices of apple instead of that afternoon candy bar and enrich your brain with quercetin — an antioxidant found to help sharpen memory and learning. Yay! Apples are also a fair source of vitamin C and a good source of dietary fiber — more than 4 grams in a medium apple.
Oh, and don’t forget the pumpkin body butter found in some stores this season. It’s not edible but definitely feeds a pumpkin obsession.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in California. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to email@example.com.