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Nutrient - Fruit and veg - the pick of the crop!

By Jenny Bodenham DipION MBANT

Now that the Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness is well and truly upon us, it’s a great time to enjoy the pick of nature’s bounty! Strawberries and cream may be a distant summer memory but, never fear, as there are plenty of luscious foods available in the autumn.

ANTIOXIDANT BOOST

Blackberries not only taste good, but are also packed with health-giving nutrients to boost the immune system. In common with other dark-coloured berries, they contain potent bioflavonoids and also provide important antioxidant vitamins, such as A, C and E, to help combat free radicals in the body – unstable molecules that are potentially damaging to cells and tissues. 

Figs are ripening at this time of year and not only provide fibre for bowel regularity, but also a variety of minerals, including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and manganese. Dried figs, which are available all year round, contain an impressive 250mg of calcium per 100g.  

Now is also the time to enjoy the tastiest of the crop of English apples and pears. The old adage, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, makes sense, considering that apples are a nutritional powerhouse, containing vitamins A, C and B complex, as well as iron, calcium, potassium, silicon and phosphorus. Apples and pears provide both soluble and insoluble fibre, to support healthy bowel function and maintain regularity, and both are rich in pectin – a soluble fibre that is present in varying amounts in all plants. Studies have found that diets enriched with pectin have a beneficial impact on cholesterol levels. Both apples and pears are low glycaemic-load foods, so will not cause a rapid rise in blood sugar. Additionally, the apple skin is rich in quercetin, a bioflavonoid that not only acts as a potent antioxidant, but also as a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory, and so may be beneficial for food allergies and intolerances, as well as hay fever. Quercetin supports the health of the capillaries and connective tissue, enhances the action of vitamin C and may have potential benefits for cardiovascular and prostate health. Quercetin can also be taken in supplement form. 

CAROTENOID SOURCES

Leading up to Bonfire Night, the humble pumpkin takes centre stage. While it is mainly decorative at Halloween, pumpkin soup and roast pumpkin are welcome warmers at firework parties around the 5th November! Pumpkin flesh is rich in carotenoids, which are natural compounds responsible for the red, yellow and orange colouring of vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, carrots and sweet potato. They are also found in green-coloured plants, including leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale. In both carrots and pumpkin, the most notable carotenoid is beta carotene, which is converted by the body into vitamin A. Vitamin A is an antioxidant vital for healthy eyesight. It is also required to maintain healthy skin and support the mucous membranes of the gut and respiratory tract. The eyes also receive protection from two other major carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are found in the highest concentration in the macula of the eye. Studies have shown that they may play a role in protecting against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Good food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and chard. They are also found in squash, pumpkin, courgettes, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. A good antioxidant complex will also provide a broad spectrum of these protective nutrients. 

SEEDS OF HEALTH

Don’t forget to keep the seeds of the pumpkin, rather than tossing them in the bin! Pumpkin seeds are rich in the essential fatty acids omega 3 and 6, as well as chock-full of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc, iron and copper. They are a good source of protein and the dried seeds can be sprinkled on salads or cereals or made into a spread to be enjoyed on crackers or added to soups and pasta. If you haven’t the time to make your own spread, it makes sense to buy a tub of organic pumpkin seed butter to keep handy in the fridge. 

Butternut squash – a relative of the pumpkin in the gourd family – provides another tasty way of boosting immunity and increasing carotenoid intake. Squash is an excellent source of fibre, carotenoids, vitamins A, C and E and the minerals magnesium, manganese, calcium and potassium. The phytosterols in the seeds of both the pumpkin and squash have been studied for their benefits in the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) – an inflammatory condition of the prostate. 

SALAD DAYS

Finally, just because winter is approaching, don’t banish all thoughts of salad! Make a tasty winter salad with beetroot, watercress and walnuts, all of which are in season now. Top with grilled goat’s cheese, for extra protein and tang, and drizzle with flax seed oil and balsamic vinegar. Watercress provides a good, non-dairy source of calcium, is rich in vitamin C and is an excellent source of iodine, to support the thyroid. Beetroot is good for the blood, being rich in magnesium and iron. It also contains betaine, which supports liver function and cardiovascular health. Walnuts are a great source of protein and are brimming with valuable minerals, including iron, manganese and magnesium. They are also rich in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, which play an important role in the brain, as well as maintaining a healthy heart. Organic raw walnut butter is a delicious alternative to butter, margarines and spreads. 

And don’t forget, not only can you reap the nutritional benefits of flavoursome seasonal foods but, by eating more locally-grown foods, you will also be cutting down on those food miles! 


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