Say hello to fall fruits & veggies

McIntosh apples hang from a branch of a tree at Carlson Orchards, in Harvard, Mass., Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012.  Many orchards across New England are facing shortages after a warm spring and late April freeze killed early blossoms. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
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The fall harvest season brings a whole new assortment of delicious and heart-healthy fresh fruits and vegetables. Apples, pears, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are fresh in the market — or in your garden.

“Autumn is a time to shift from the seed fruit that we eat in the summer to all the nutrition-rich goodies, like the grapes and persimmons, we get in the fall,” says Riska Platt, a nutritionist at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program and a volunteer with the American Heart Association.

These fresh foods are not only tasty, but can help you feel better, get healthier and may protect against heart disease and stroke.

Colors of fall

Fall brings its own color wheel of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Deep colors like oranges, reds and purples are especially prominent in the cooler months.

“Each season presents many different colors, but I really encourage people to try to eat a rainbow of colors,” she says. “Don’t just have a green salad; add all different colors into the salad. More colors usually means there is good nutritional value in your meal.”

Fruits and vegetables with color contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals that have different disease-fighting elements. These compounds may be important in reducing the risk of many conditions, including cardiovascular disease.

The American Heart Association recommends at least four to five servings per day of fruits and vegetables, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, as part of a healthy lifestyle that can lower your risk for these diseases.

Fruits, vegetables and your weight

The cooler months can bring additional health and nutritional challenges. The shorter days can make it harder to get physical activity outdoors. And there are the looming (and calorie-packed) temptations of football party snacks and Thanksgiving buffets.

However, one good way to avoid those extra seasonal pounds is to keep eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

“Apples are thought to have a unique source of fiber that is excellent for weight control,” Platt says. “This is great during the fall, because this is when they are harvested and why they’re so crisp and delicious right now.”

Other fresh-food benefits

While grocery stores will carry an assortment of fruits and vegetables throughout the year, buying seasonal produce can take some of the strain off your wallet. When foods are in season locally, they are usually more abundant and affordable.

Buying seasonal produce may also add zest and flavor to your meals. Fruits and vegetables that are in season are typically fresher and more flavorful.

However, some canned or frozen fruits and vegetables can be just as healthy and satisfying.

Some people think frozen or canned vegetables lack nutritional value, but they are usually processed at the peak of harvest so can provide nutritional value which is similar to fresh produce, Platt says. She recommends rinsing canned vegetables to remove excess sodium, though.

“The flavor might be different and texture might be different, but they’re absolutely fine to eat,” Platt says.

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