10 top Autumn foods to fall for

The days of bright berries, crisp salads and succulent summer fruit are behind us for another year. While you might be disappointed to see the last of the seasonal salads, don't fret - there are delicious replacements on the way to help you keep your healthy eating habits.

Autumn is a season of deep green, dark yellow and brilliant orange and these colours mean the fruits and vegetables are rich in disease-fighting phytochemicals. The more colourful the fruit, the better it is for your health.

Here are our top 10 picks for the most delicious and healthy Autumn fruits and veggies. Make them a regular part of your diet, so you can continue to reap the nutritional rewards that fruits and vegetables offer throughout the year.

1. Parsnips. These might look like white carrots but they have a delicate, sweet flavour. While they don't contain the same high amounts of vitamin A as carrots, parsnips are a good source of fibre, vitamin C, calcium and iron. Look for smooth and firm, small to medium sized parsnips for the best quality. Large coarse roots usually have woody or fibrous centres.

Traditionally, parsnips are boiled and mashed together with carrots, but they can be steamed, microwaved, boiled, roasted or sautéed as a side vegetable. They also stand in nicely for carrots, potatoes or sweet potatoes in most recipes, and lend a gentle sweetness to soups and other combinations of root vegetables.

2. Turnips and swedes. A member of the mustard family, turnips, known as swedes in Scotland and Ireland, have a white flesh with a tough outer skin that ranges from yellow to purple, and a more bitter flavour than potatoes. They are a good source of vitamin C and offer 2-3g dietary fibre per serving. Like their cousins, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, these cruciferous vegetables contain the potent phytochemical sulforaphane, which has been shown to protect against cancer, especially breast cancer. Try incorporating them into recipes where you’d normally use plain-old spuds. They work well boiled, mashed or roasted.

3. Sweet potatoes. Despite its name, the sweet potato is not related to the potato. Potatoes are classified as tubers, while the sweet potato is a storage root. Good-quality sweet potatoes will be firm, smooth-skinned and tan to light rose in colour. They contain 30 milligrams (50,000 IU) of beta-carotene (vitamin A) in a serving, which is four times the recommended daily allowance (RDA) per serving. You would have to eat 23 portions of broccoli to consume the same amount of beta-carotene.

They are also high in vitamin C (one serving provides 50% of the RDA) and provide three grams of fibre per serving. Sweet potatoes are an ideal choice for people with diabetes, since they are considered a low glycaemic food. This means that the carbohydrate in sweet potatoes is released slowly, which helps maintain steady blood sugar levels.

White potatoes, on the other hand, are a high glycaemic food, as they release carbohydrates very quickly and cause large fluctuations in blood sugar levels. They are ideal for baking, grilling or steaming, and you can substitute them in any recipe that calls for potatoes.

4. Pumpkins. These are more than just Halloween decorations. The pumpkin's bright orange colour is a dead giveaway that it’s loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene, as well as being rich in vitamin C and folate.

Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and protect against heart disease. Even the seeds are packed with nutritional value. In fact, they are only second to peanuts in protein content and a good source of zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce your risk of heart disease.

You can roast your own seeds from a fresh pumpkin in a hot oven (190° C) for about 45 minutes. If you do not fancy cooking a pumpkin, don't forget that you can use canned pumpkin in any recipe. It’s great served as a tasty side dish for a main meal and ideal for making hearty winter soups, as well as being baked into bread and pumpkin pie.

5. Winter squash. While summer squash tends to be tender and moist with edible seeds and rind, winter squash develops hard rinds and the tough seeds and fibrous centre are inedible and must be scooped out. Winter squash is one of the few vegetables that do not lose quality after picking. In fact, during storage, the beta-carotene (vitamin A) content increases, and they contain more than 100 percent of the RDA for vitamin A. They are also a good source of heart-healthy nutrients, folate and fibre.

6. Clementines. These are the baby cousins of the Florida or navel orange and are also known as mandarin oranges. They can be quite difficult to distinguish from tangerines, as they are both bitter orange hybrids, but the main difference is that clementines are often seedless. They have loose skin, so they are easy to peel and make a great portable snack. They marry well with chicken dishes, so try adding some wedges to a grilled chicken wrap for a tropical flavour. If your salad is looking a little dreary, dress it up with a few clementines for more colour or blend segments with low-fat vanilla yoghurt and skimmed milk for a creamy fruit smoothie.

7. Apples. Apples contain flavonoids, some of the most potent antioxidants around. Several studies have shown that people who eat a diet that's rich in flavonoids have a lower risk of heart disease and heart attacks as well as several types of cancer. And to top that, they are good for much more than baking. Try this simple recipe and fill the whole house with a cinnamon-apple scent: Slice four McIntosh apples into pieces and place in a saucepan with two tablespoons water and one cinnamon stick; simmer on low heat until apples are tender and the sauce begins to thicken. Serve warm with a dollop of low-fat vanilla ice cream or frozen yoghurt or stir into your breakfast porridge.

8. Pears. Pears are a high-fibre food, with a medium pear providing four grams of fibre, which is equivalent to one and a half cups of brown rice. Most of the fibre is also of the soluble kind, which can help lower blood cholesterol levels and improve blood sugar control. They are almost as versatile as the apple. You can use them in low-fat pancakes, sliced on sandwiches or poached and drizzled with maple syrup for a warm, sweet dessert.

9. Cranberries. If you are looking for berries that ripen in autumn, look no further than cranberries. Not only are they a healthy, low-calorie fruit, they also play a significant role in preventing urinary tract infections and reducing the risk of gum disease, ulcers, heart disease and cancer. Cranberries contain anthocyanins, the heart-healthy antioxidants, which are also found in tea and red wine, and the compound that gives them their colour. Only about 10 percent of the commercial crop is sold fresh - mostly in September through to December. The rest can be found as juice, dried or as cranberry sauce. Fresh cranberries can be too tart on their own, but they pair wonderfully with other fruits such as apples and pears. Cranberries work well added to muffins and other baked goods and in compotes, relishes, chutneys and fruit desserts.

10. Figs. These often-overlooked fruits are full of flavour and their chewy texture makes them a tasty, nutritious addition to your diet. Figs are high in fibre (5 grams per 1½-ounce serving), which is more dietary fibre per serving than any other common dried or fresh fruit. They are also a good non-diary source of calcium – the same amount of figs and milk provide equal amounts of calcium. Fig puree (200g figs pureed in a blender with around 50-100ml of water or fruit juice) can also be used as both a sweetener and a fat substitute in many baked goods. Keep dried figs on hand as a rich-tasting alternative to cookies or dessert. Or sweeten up mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes with some chopped figs. The figs add a richness of their own, so you can skip the butter or margarine.

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