The fall festivals that lie ahead this year not only serve up festive fun — they also serve up some healthy and delicious dishes for everyone.
Autumn is a wonderful time of year to take advantage of fresh produce that can provide essential vitamins and health benefits, medical experts advise.
“Fall is a great time to do a lot of roasting and baking,” Stephanie Di Figlia-Peck, lead registered dietician at Northwell Health Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, told Fox News Digital.
“When roasted, some fall fruits and vegetables get caramelized and that enhances their natural sweetness, which makes them more palliative and appetizing,” she also said.
Di Figlia-Peck, a certified diabetes care and education specialist, said fall fruits and vegetables are versatile — and can provide robust flavors for many meals on cold, crisp autumn days.
“Dried fruits have a concentrated flavor, so they work well in baked dishes, casseroles and salads,” she said.
Here are some popular and healthy fall fruits and vegetables — as well as secrets on how to incorporate them into delicious dishes.
Not only do cranberry bogs serve as a popular site for fall visits, they provide a healthy fall side dish as well.
Dr. David Gentile, an integrative medicine physician at Oasis Integrative Medicine Practice in Rocky Point, New York, educates patients about healthy eating and disease prevention. Cranberries are a wonderful high-antioxidant treat, he said.
“They also contain d-mannose, a monocyte cure that is helpful in reducing the frequency of urinary tract infections by reducing the ability of bacteria to stick to the bladder wall,” he said.
“I personally love making a cranberry compote from scratch, using low-glycemic sweeteners,” he also said.
He added, “Cranberries are wonderful as a side [during a] traditional Thanksgiving dinner, or even on some Greek yogurt as a nice dessert.”
Cranberries contain compounds such as anthocyanins, procyanidins and flavonols that have shown potential cancer prevention impacts, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Science and Food and Agriculture.
Also, cranberries may have a positive effect on heart health and cholesterol while protecting against inflammation in the intestines and bacteria called H. pylori in the stomach, the study noted.
Apple picking is a popular way to get some healthy fruit on your table while having some fun.
Apples may help protect against cardiovascular disease, researchers have found.
Consuming one medium-sized apple a day may help lower cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation, according to a study in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.
“Apples are a great low glycemic fruit with quercetin, flavonoids and polyphenols, which help with mast cell stabilization, allergies and general antioxidant benefits,” said Gentile.
“Apples are great to clean out oral dentition as we chew the apples. They’re handy to carry as snacks, and they’re great to use with other meals, baked along with meats and/or healthy desserts,” he also said.
Dr. Ken Zweig, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown and George Washington University medical schools in Washington, D.C., told Fox News Digital, “An apple a day may actually keep the doctor away.”
“As a doctor, I joke that apples are my nemesis, but I actually have one every day.”
Zweig, also a physician at Northern Virginia Family Practice in Arlington, Virginia, said, “Apples are high in fiber, vitamin C and other beneficial compounds.”
He added that “studies have shown that apples can lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease and even prevent diabetes. As a doctor, I joke that apples are my nemesis, but I actually have one every day.”
Pumpkin picking is high on the list of things to do for many families and households during fall — and the fruit can help create delicious and healthy family meals.
“Most of us think of pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pie and pumpkin muffins when we think of this fall fruit — and yes, it is a fruit — [but] none of [those things are] healthy,” Zweig told Fox News Digital, referring to muffins, doughnuts and more.
“However, roasted pumpkin, pumpkin soup and pumpkin seeds can be quite healthy,” he said.
Pumpkin is loaded with fiber and vitamins, Zweig also said, and it’s typically low in calories.
Laura Feldman, an assistant professor of nutrition and director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics at Long Island University in Brookville, New York, told Fox News Digital, “Pumpkins are very high in beta-carotene, which is a form of vitamin A.”
Beta-carotene, she added, “helps you to see clearly and also serves as a powerful antioxidant.”
When making foods with pumpkin, “be sure to use plain pumpkin rather than pumpkin pie filling to avoid added sugars,” said Feldman.
Roasted pumpkin seeds make a healthy and delicious snack that’s also high in nutrients, including zinc, which she said supports your immune system.
Pumpkins can be a healthy comfort food during a cold fall day, said Gentile.
“They are visually appealing [and] full produce with high beta-carotene, which is a very good source of antioxidants.”
Besides their use in traditional baking dishes, pumpkins can be used to make soups, which Gentile described as “a cozy bowl full of wonderfulness.”
Sweet potatoes are in season during the fall — and are another delicious way to consume important nutrients.
They’re also higher in Vitamin A than regular white potatoes.
Also, “sweet potatoes are a wonderful way to enjoy a baked potato with a lower glycemic index than traditional white potatoes,” said Dr. Gentile of Oasis Integrative Medicine Practice in New York.
“In addition to all of the wonderful antioxidant flavonoid benefits, sweet potatoes bring color and nutrition to a meal,” he also said.
Those who have diabetes or other blood sugar issues “may benefit from limiting high GI foods,” Healthline has noted. That’s why some people are told to choose sweet potatoes over white potatoes, the same source noted.
The way in which potato affects a person’s blood sugar “largely depends on the type of potato, portion size and cooking method,” Healthline also pointed out.
So, “while some varieties of sweet potatoes may have a lower GI than regular potatoes, others do not.”
Dr. Zweig also said about this vegetable, “Sweet potatoes are a starch, so don’t rely on them for weight loss.”
He noted, too, “A lot depends on how these are prepared, so adding loads of butter or brown sugar, as we often do at Thanksgiving, defeats any nutritional benefits of this food.”
“Regular potatoes and sweet potatoes can both be enjoyed as part of a healthy eating pattern,” a spokesperson at Potatoes USA told Fox News Digital.
Peak season for beets is late summer through late fall — and studies show that this fall delicacy may help lower blood pressure.
Beets contain nitric acid, said Gentile, which helps with vasodilatation, the process that expands the blood vessels in the body and improves blood flow.
Since beets are a source of nitrates, they may play a role in brain health. Studies suggest that a diet rich in nitrates may have a beneficial effect when it comes to improving cognitive brain function.
Beets are also a great source of betaine, which helps in digestion, Gentile told Fox News Digital.
“They are high in glycemic index, but are great when eaten as either an appetizer or a small side,” Gentile said.
He added this recipe tip: “Beets are delicious, especially when baked. They go great with goat cheese.”
This article has been updated with additional information.