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Fresh produce in season can be more nutritious, sustainable and often more affordable than out-of-season fruits and vegetables.
Pumpkins, apples, and kale are some of the most heart-healthy fall produce items.
Roasting fall vegetables with heart-healthy oils can help maximize nutritional benefits.
Pumpkin spice season is here. But if you want to focus on eating whole fruits and vegetables, a diet rich in seasonal fall produce can support heart health.
Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants that can protect the cardiovascular system.
“You really can’t go wrong with the produce you pick in the fall, because they all have their own heart-healthy benefits,” said Diana Mesa, RDN, LDN, CDCES, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator who has founded En La Mesa Nutrition in Miami.
Visit a local farmers market or browse the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) website to see what seasonal produce is available near you in the fall. According to Mesa, eating seasonally is a sustainable and affordable option because it costs suppliers less to ship produce.
“It’s usually picked at or just before full ripeness, and because it doesn’t have to travel as far, they don’t have to wait that long for it to ripen, so you get a lot of “nutritional bang for your buck,” Mesa said.
Frozen or canned products can be just as nutritious, she added. But if you want to buy heart-healthy fresh produce this fall, keep an eye out for these nine fruits and vegetables.
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Pumpkin spice lattes may get a lot of attention this time of year, but adding real pumpkins to your diet can be just as festive while providing more benefits for your heart.
These squashes are rich in beta-carotene, a pigment that gives pumpkins their characteristic orange color. Beta-carotene converts to vitamin A in your body, which has antioxidant properties that may protect against heart disease, according to Theresa Gentile, MS, RDN, CDN, a New York-based registered dietitian who specializes in cardiovascular nutrition.
Gentile said fresh or canned pumpkin can be used in pancake batter, hummus, smoothies or as a partial substitute for mashed potatoes. Pumpkin puree can even replace butter in baked goods, like her “Heart-Healthy Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies” in a 4:3 ratio. “Omit four tablespoons of oil and add three tablespoons of pumpkin puree,” she said.
Pumpkin seeds are also nutritious. A small 2019 study suggested that pumpkin seed oil might help prevent high blood pressure in postmenopausal women. Eating whole seeds would provide the added benefit of fiber, which may help lower cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease, according to Heather A. Hodson, RDN, CDN, CDCES, clinical nutritionist at the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention of NYU Langone.
“If pumpkin carving is in your future, don’t miss out on the nutritional power it contains that can often be overlooked. The small but mighty seeds are excellent sources of fiber, antioxidants and flavonoids that can help fight inflammation and prevent disease. Eat with the shell on for more fiber,” Hodson said.
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Apples are full of fiber and polyphenols, compounds found in certain fruits and vegetables known to support heart health.
A 2020 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating two apples a day may help reduce the risk of heart disease in people with high blood cholesterol levels.
Eating raw apples is one way to enjoy this seasonal fruit, Mesa said, but you can also try baked apples with a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg.
A 2020 study found that pomegranate juice could lower blood pressure, but the study was conducted on people with advanced kidney disease, so more research is needed to determine if the same benefits apply to a wider population.
However, like apples, pomegranates are rich in heart-healthy polyphenols, which give the fruit its rich color, Mesa explained.
She said one of her favorite fall recipes is pomegranate and roasted squash salad. Since squash contains fat-soluble beta-carotene, she recommends drizzling olive oil over the squash before serving the salad.
“That would really help increase profits because you need that fat to absorb the beta-carotene,” Mesa said.
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Beets are a good source of nitrates, and some research suggests that beet juice may help control blood pressure.
The nitrates in beets are the same compound found in processed meats, but they don’t have the same effect on your body, according to Mesa. She explained that a chemical reaction between amino acids in meat, nitrates and high heat turns them into nitrosamines, which are associated with cancer risk.
“Beets are very high in nitrates, and these nitrates help dilate blood vessels, which can help athletes and performance, for example, but also overall heart health,” Mesa said.
For a heart-healthy source of nitrates, beets can be added to smoothies or roasted with other seasonal vegetables.
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Kale and other leafy greens also contain nitrates which are good for the heart. This superfood can be used in salads or mixed with turkey to make a stuffed spaghetti squash filling.
“The high fiber content of kale may also help lower cholesterol levels, promoting heart health. Its antioxidants can fight free radicals, which may also protect heart health,” Gentile said.
This cool-season green can even survive snowstorms and it “tastes sweeter after a frost,” she said.
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Okra is known for its sticky mucilage, which acts as a thickening agent for stews and gumbo. This green plant has edible pods, which are packed with fiber, vitamin K, vitamin C and folate, according to Gentile.
If you don’t like the texture, Gentile advises “sautéing briefly to decrease the thickening property,” adding that okra can also be grilled or roasted.
Brussels sprouts are cruciferous vegetables rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber but low in calories. Some preliminary research has suggested that these vegetables may protect against vascular calcification, a buildup of minerals in blood vessels that can lead to blood clots and strokes.
Roasting Brussels sprouts with “a little olive oil and maybe some fresh garlic, basil, oregano, dill or other herbs” is one of the best ways to enjoy this fall vegetable, according to Linda Van Horn, PhD, RDN, volunteer at the American Heart Association and professor of nutrition at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
Van Horn said the American Heart Association offers heart-healthy and affordable recipes. The recipe for Roasted Vegetables with Rosemary and Balsamic, for example, includes Brussels sprouts as well as other seasonal produce like sweet potatoes and beets.
Cranberries not only protect against urinary tract infections, but they also contain polyphenols that may support heart health.
According to Gentile, cranberries contain the antioxidant proanthocyanidin, which may help lower blood pressure and improve heart health. A small study published last year in the journal Power and function found that whole cranberry powder improved vascular function, which is a sign of improved heart health.
If you want to enjoy fresh cranberries this fall, Gentile said they pair well with meat dishes or are “a great addition to quick breads, like Cranberry Orange Bread.”
Sweet potatoes, like pumpkins, are a good source of fiber and beta-carotene, which has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. Hodson said sweet potatoes contain potassium, which lowers blood pressure and may help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
“Many fall seasonal products are nutrient-dense, but like anything, the overall impact on your health depends on how you prepare them,” Hodson said.
Reducing saturated fat, which is associated with LDL or “bad” cholesterol, is important when thinking about heart health, she said.
Animal fats, butter, cream and coconut milk all contain saturated fats.
“With this in mind, you can see how dishes like sweet potato casseroles, apple pies, and other dishes that use large amounts of butter, cream, or shortening can really contain saturated fats. ” Hodson said. “If you’re looking for a simple swap, try roasting sweet potatoes, winter squash, or Brussels sprouts with a drizzle of olive or avocado oil instead of using butter or cook them in a casserole dish.
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What this means for you
No matter what seasonal produce you choose, eating more fruits and vegetables will benefit your heart health because they’re full of fiber and antioxidants.
Read the original article on Verywell Health.