Colorful fall foods like pumpkin and squash are rich in phytonutrients, natural compounds that might help prevent cancer.

Phytonutrients are natural compounds that give plant-based foods their rich color, as well as their distinctive taste and smell. You can find phytonutrients in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, spices, and tea. Phytonutrients are important to maintaining good health. When we eat foods with phytonutrients, they help rid our bodies of dangerous substances called toxins.  Research also is being conducted to determine the role of phytonutrients in preventing cancer and improving cardiovascular and digestive health.

In the summer months, when fresh produce is abundant, people tend to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables than when the cold weather sets in and the supply dwindles. But fall offers its own variety of fruits and vegetables rich in phytonutrients – squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, broccoli, Swiss chard, kale, carrots, apples, parsnip, turnip, cranberries, and beets.

Pumpkin is rich in carotenoids, a particular type of phytonutrient. Research has shown that diets high in carotenoids may help prevent colon, prostate, breast, and lung cancers. Pumpkin is delicious when used to make soup, ravioli, bread or muffins. Also try toasted pumpkin seeds!

Baked butternut or acorn squash seasoned with cinnamon or nutmeg is a great side dish, as is a medley of roasted root vegetables. Squash also works well in pasta dishes. Baked sweet potato fries are a great treat.

Apples, a popular fall food, contain quercetin, a phytonutrient that may help to protect DNA from the damage that can lead to cancer. Remember, quercetin is in the skin, so don’t peel it away. Baked apples with cinnamon make a warm fall treat. Also try making homemade applesauce, or adding apples to salad or squash soup.

Research shows that cranberries also may have anti-cancer activity due to the protective effect of phytonutrients. They are easy to add to muffins, breads, yogurt, or cereal.

An easy way to fit phytonutrients into your diet is  by re-shaping your plate. At least half of your plate should be vegetables and/or fruits. Another way is to eat phytonutrient-rich foods between meals as healthy snacks. And remember, phytonutrients provide a more potent protective punch when eaten as whole foods rather than supplements.

So take your cues from fall’s colors and add some color to your plate, too.

– Pamela S

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