5 Nutritious Fall Foods You Should Be Eating, According to a Dietitian

These classic fall foods will help strengthen your immune system and fight off chronic disease.

When we move into the cooler months, we are often drawn to familiar, seasonal flavors (pumpkin spice, anyone?) and comforting, warming meals. At the same time, we are also starting to think about maintaining our health through the cold and flu season. The good news is that many of the foods we already associate with fall also pack some serious health benefits.

We asked Rebecca Ditkoff, MPH, RD, founder of Nutrition by RD, to give us the full run-down on the foods to rely on this autumn for optimal wellness.

When it comes to eating to support the immune system, Ditkoff reminds us that variety is key. "Eating a balanced and varied diet full of fruits and vegetables is more important than eating any one food," she says.

With that in mind, here are five foods to include in your rotation to help keep you on track for a healthy and delicious fall.

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Pumpkin facts and trivia - large pumpkin
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You may not give pumpkins much thought (other than your yearly slice of pumpkin pie), but the orange globes offer a multitude of health benefits. According to Ditkoff, the beta-carotene that gives pumpkin its signature hue also serves as an antioxidant.

"Consuming beta-carotene can help reduce the risk of developing certain cancers, may offer protection against asthma and heart disease, and may decrease the risk of macular degeneration."

Pumpkin is also a great source of fiber. Ditkoff recommends sneaking it into chocolate brownies, overnight oats, pancake batter, and muffins for added nutrition and a moisture boost.

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Root Vegetables

roasted-vegetables-recipe: carrots
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Roasted root vegetables are one of the joys of fall cooking. Is there anything better than savory rosemary beets and carrots or perfectly crispy roasted potatoes? According to Ditkoff, those tasty root vegetables are nutrition powerhouses full of antioxidants.

They also serve as good sources of vitamins A and C, which help support the immune system during the cold and flu season. Other root veggies to start including in your diet are carrots, jicama, radishes, rutabaga, parsnips, and celeriac.

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How-to-Store-Apples: basket of apples
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Where you live, apple picking might be a favorite fall activity. Or perhaps you just enjoy the crunch of a perfect Honeycrisp, or the subtle sweetness apples lend to baked goods. Either way, it turns out the old adage is true: An apple a day is beneficial for your health.

Fiber is the star of the show when it comes to apples, as they contain four grams per serving. "Diets rich in high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans are tied to a lower risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even breast and colorectal cancers," Ditkoff says.

And don't peel before eating! "The skins of apples are rich in polyphenols and antioxidants that are known to help protect against oxidative stress, which is associated with many chronic diseases," she adds.

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Winter Squash

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Butternut, acorn, kabocha, spaghetti squash, delicata … the list of winter squash is long, varied, and delectable. And they are excellent foods to include in your fall diet. "There are about 500 milligrams of potassium in one cup of cooked butternut or acorn squash, which can help to counteract the negative effects that salt has in those with high blood pressure," explains Ditkoff.

There are additional benefits to eating vegetables like winter squash in the autumn months. "Seasonal produce is generally harvested at its peak, so it retains its full nutrient and vitamin content," Ditkoff says. "It's best to buy in-season produce locally since the nutrients have less travel time to degrade before reaching your plate."

Produce grown close to home also tends to taste better and has a lower carbon footprint than fruits and veggies that have traveled a long distance to get to you.

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relaxing foods: cup of tea with lemon
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It turns out that this quintessential fall spice does more than just add the perfect touch to pies and lattes.

One distinction to note is that there are two main types of cinnamon: cassia cinnamon and Ceylon cinnamon, each with its own associated health benefits. "The research is still preliminary, but there's some research showing that cinnamon—particularly Cassia cinnamon—may be helpful for those with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes," says Ditkoff. Even if you don't suffer from one of those conditions, cinnamon could help you maintain blood sugar levels.

Try adding a few shakes to your coffee or tea, taking over-the-counter capsules, or adding it to roasted vegetables for the perfect seasonal side dish.

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