Eat More Orange this Fall

Squash

The fall season is rich with the color orange. From leaves to pumpkins, this warm and vibrant color is all around us. We often associate the color orange with the aroma of spices, the feeling of warmth, and of course the autumn season. But did you know that orange is also a very nourishing color?

Orange foods like winter squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, and bell peppers, all products of the fall harvest, contain powerful phytonutrients called “carotenoids” including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthan. Our bodies turn some carotenoids into active Vitamin A, which plays an important role in bone growth, tooth development, reproduction, cell division, gene expression, and regulation of the immune system. The skin, eyes, and mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, throat and lungs also depend on vitamin A to retain moisture. Carotenoid-rich foods can even help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and improve immune system function. The deeper the orange or yellow color in foods, the more carotenoids they contain.

The beautiful orange foods provided by the fall season are also a great source of fiber. Fiber is essential for cardiovascular and digestive health and helps the body to regulate blood sugar. Soluble fiber, a type of fiber that absorbs water in the intestinal tract, can help lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Insoluble fiber, found in the skins and seeds of fruits and vegetables, does not absorb water and helps food move through the digestive tract, promoting regularity. A few orange fall favorites are highlighted below.

Carrots

Colorado carrots are typically available August through November, but they’ve been known to pop up at farmers’ markets as early as July. In addition to their earthy sweetness, carrots also supply a good source of vitamin C and fiber. Carrots are one of the richest sources of beta-carotene, a pre-curser to vitamin A, with one cup of sliced carrots providing more than the recommended daily amount of vitamin A.

Winter Squash

Squash is available in both winter and summer varieties, but winter squash provides the richest orange pigment in its flesh. Winter squash is a great source of complex carbohydrates and fiber, and the varieties with deep yellow/orange flesh are highest in beta-carotene. Winter squash like butternut squash, acorn squash, and pumpkin, have hard shell-like skins and are available in Colorado August through December.

Bell Peppers

A variety of bell peppers are available in Colorado from July to October. All bell peppers, regardless of color, are a great source of antioxidants, providing both carotenoids and vitamin C. Of all the colors, however, red and orange bell peppers contain the highest amounts of the phytonutrients beta-carotene and lycopene. Red peppers are also an excellent source of vitamin B6 and have been shown to reduce the risk for certain types of cancers.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes do not typically grow well in Colorado due to our short growing season and cool nights. They prefer a warmer growing season, and their peak harvest is late October through December. While they may not be local, sweet potatoes can usually be found at any grocery store. Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C, B vitamins, iron, and phosphorus. As a result, sweet potatoes help to boost the immune system and protect us from illness as we move through the fall and winter months. For the most bang for your buck, choose sweet potatoes that have a deep orange or even purple flesh.

Pumpkins Provide More than Just Décor!

We often think of pumpkins as nothing more than fall décor, but they are a highly nutritious member of the winter squash family deserving of our culinary attention. The pumpkin’s rich orange flesh is high in beta-carotene and its seeds are an excellent source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.

Pumpkin can be prepared much like any winter squash, by roasting it in a baking dish. Smaller pie pumpkins are often sweeter than large jack-o-lantern pumpkins, so choose pie pumpkins when roasting. To roast a pumpkin, simply cut it in half, spoon out the seeds, and place it face down in a large baking dish. Add ¼ inch of water to the dish and bake at 350°F until tender – about 45-60 minutes. Once it cools a bit, scoop out the flesh, season with salt and pepper, and enjoy!

The pumpkin seeds can also be roasted for a crunchy nutritious treat. Rinse them until clean, then toss them in a bowl with vegetable oil and salt. Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 45minutes or until golden. Yum! For a more gourmet approach, try Pumpkin Alfredo over your favorite pasta. Click here for the recipe: http://www.liveeatplay.colostate.edu/eat/recipes/pumpkinalfredo.php

Sources:

Amsterdam, E. (2008, October 24). How to Roast a Pumpkin. Retrieved from https://elanaspantry.com/how-to-roast-a-pumpkin-in-10-steps/

Colorado State University Extension. (2017). Colorado Carrots. Retrieved from http://farmtotable.colostate.edu/eat-resources/carrots.php#.WXouOFGQwdU

Colorado State University Extension. (2017). Colorado Peppers. Retrieved from http://farmtotable.colostate.edu/eat-resources/peppers.php#.WZH_IYWcGM9

Colorado State University Extension. (2017). Colorado Squash. Retrieved from http://farmtotable.colostate.edu/eat-resources/squash.php#.WZH_VIWcGM9

Garden-Robinson, J. (2016). What Color is Your Food? Retrieved from https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/food-nutrition/what-color-is-your-food

Live Eat Play Colorado. (2016). Pumpkin Alfredo. Retrieved from http://www.liveeatplay.colostate.edu/eat/recipes/pumpkinalfredo.php#.WZIBU4WcGM9

Shavo, K., Clemson Cooperative Extension. (2016, June). Use Color to Guide healthy Food Choices. Retrieved from https://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/hot_topics/2016/pdf/03%20use_color_to_guide_healthy_food_choices_2%20col.pd

Sun, T., Xu, Z., Wu, CT., Janes, M., Prinyawiwatkul, W., No, HK. (2007, March). Antioxidant activities of different colored sweet bell peppers (Capsicum annuum L.). Journal of Food Science, 72(2), 98-102.

University of Missouri Extension. (2015). Fight Back with Phytonutrients. Retrieved from http://extension.missouri.edu/fnep/nutritiondisplays/phytonutrients/handout.pdf