There are so many things to love about fall — hello apples and pumpkins! — but most seasonal staples can be heavy and loaded with calories. Let's take a beat before you dive head first into pies, bisques, chilis and soufflés.
Here are six of my favorite fall foods, and why you should make them part of your autumn eats this year:
This purple fall food is most often discussed in one way: “That eggplant parm was to die for." First, let’s break up with traditional eggplant parm and try it in a new, healthy way.
Eggplants are an uber brain food due to the compound nasunin, which protects your brain cells from oxidation. Chlorogenic acid found in eggplants also gives them anti-cancer, anti-viral and cholesterol-lowering properties. When soaked or fried in oil (eggplants act like sponges) or loaded with cheese, eggplants will do more harm than good. But eaten in a healthier way, they can be a dieter’s BFF by racking up only 20 calories per cup.
Try it this way: Slice an eggplant into thin slices along the long edge. Sprinkle with salt, let stand for 10 minutes, and blot with a paper towel to remove excess water. Drizzle with olive oil and roast at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, flipping halfway through, and then let cool. Layer each slice with hummus, raw or grilled zucchini and bell peppers cut into ½-inch slices, and roll each eggplant slice, securing each veggie roll up with a toothpick.
2. Butternut squash
This fall staple doesn’t just look good next to the other gourds adorning your table, it’s got some serious nutritional benefits. The orange flesh is a giveaway that it’s loaded with beta-carotene (300 percent of your daily value in one cup), which is a precursor to vitamin A, a vital component in the support of your healthy skin, eyes and bones. It’s also a good source of immune-boosting vitamin C, and loaded with dietary fiber for overall gut health.
Try it this way: Add pureed butternut squash to tomato soup or pancakes or toss it into your morning smoothie. There’s always room in a wild rice or farro side dish for a pop of color. Don’t be shy.
Really, what’s prettier than a pomegranate seed? If you’re daring enough (which you should be) to get down and dirty with the dark pink juices, you’ll find that tearing up and eating a pomegranate is one of the most fun and healthiest things you can do.
Especially for your heart. Studies have shown that the consumption of pomegranate can have serious benefits when it comes to preventing circulatory damage by reducing the buildup of harmful fat in your arteries. So, yes, your heart is thanking you already and so is the rest of your body.
Try it this way: Top your oatmeal, add to a fall kale salad or mix into buckwheat pancakes.
Stringing cranberries and popcorn is fun and all but, eating them is, well, even more fun. Anthocyanins, the compounds responsible for that deep-red, fall color are responsible for acting as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. Cranberries may improve bladder-health, defend against breast, colon, lung and prostate cancer and even fill you up with some fiber.
Try it this way: Make a healthy spin on the classic sugar-laden cranberry sauce by making a spiced cranberry relish.
5. Broccoli rabe
No, there is no relation to broccoli, so you can feel even more adventurous when trying this green goody. Broccoli rabe has about two times the amount of zinc as broccoli. Why does this mineral matter? Zinc is an overachiever when it comes to your immune system. Cold and flu season is coming soon and it’s important to give your immune system a boost. Beans are an obvious go-to, but you can get fiber from your leafy greens, too. Broccoli rabe provides about one and a half times as much gastrointestinal health boosting fiber than it’s competition kale.
Try it this way: Take your avocado toast up a notch by topping with sauteed broccoli rabe and and a poached egg or simply saute broccoli rabe with garlic and olive oil for a variety on your go-to side dish.
Most of us know garlic and onions keep heart disease (and vampires) at bay due to polyphenols, which protect blood vessels from oxidative damage and prevent atherosclerosis. Leeks don’t just make a plate look pretty; research has shown that vitamin K can be anti-cancer forming, and also beneficial when it comes to increasing your body’s sensitivity to insulin. Bonus, vitamin K is good for your bone health, too.
Try it this way: Potato leek soup? Latkes? Been there done that. I hear ya. Instead, mix it up with leeks by simply braising and serving as the perfect side dish. Or, there’s always an egg scramble that’s just crying for some new flavor. Saute leeks and toss in!