The Nutrition of our Favorite Fall Flavors
Although the Fall Equinox is not until Sept 22nd, we are already seeing the early excitement for all of our favorite fall necessities. Whether it’s the seasonal return of the PSL, pumpkin-themed craft brews, or bountiful fall harvests arriving at your market of choice, there is an undeniable shift happening. Today we’re taking a different approach. Rather than sharing our favorite fall recipes (that one’s coming later, don’t worry), today we’re going to dive into fall flavors. What are fall flavors? Where do they come from, and what are the health benefits? In doing so, perhaps we can harness these seasonal trends for the benefit of our health and overall wellbeing.
What qualifies as a ‘Fall Flavor’
The Fall season is harvest season, as many crops and products reach their peak in late August – October. So it’s safe to say that many of the flavors we associate with fall originate from the seasonal availability of these fruits and veggies. Some common fall crops include:
- Winter Squash (butternut, pumpkin, acorn, etc)
But this is just half the story, as we also associate a lot of spices with fall. In fact, the flavor we call ‘pumpkin spice’ doesn’t actually include any pumpkin at all. Pumpkin spice is generally a mixture of cinnamon, allspice, clove, nutmeg, and ginger. But you’ll also find spices like cardamom and anise used in various fall recipes as well.
The are a few reasons these spices are associated with fall. To start, spices used to be a luxury item, used only for celebrations and significant events. Despite the modern accessibility of spices, the tradition of spiced holiday foods remains, and two of the biggest US holidays occur in the fall/early winter time frame. In addition, these spices in particular are considered “warming spices”, meaning they offer a sensation of warmth when added to food or drinks. You can find a lot of references to this in Ayurvedic traditions as well. This brings us to our next point:
What are the nutritional values of these foods
Let’s start again with the produce.
- High in fiber, excellent for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes-friendly from the low glycemic index, and can contribute to overall gut and digestion health.
- Winter Squash (butternut, pumpkin, acorn, etc)
- High in beta-carotene, lutein, and antioxidants. Can reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce inflammation, and lower blood pressure. Have also been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels.
- Excellent for healthy eyes can help to support your immune system, can help regulate blood pressure and blood sugar, and can lower the risk of cancer. The abundance of calcium and vitamin K can also strengthen bones.
- High in fiber which can help balance cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Can also aid in digestion by providing prebiotic benefits to the gut. Also high in potassium which helps decrease blood pressure.
- Rich in vitamin C and vitamin A, which help with immune health and vision respectively. Also been shown to be beneficial for diabetes prevention, and reduced the risk of heart disease and Atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries).
- Extremely high in many antioxidants, which means they are great for brain health, and aging, and reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Also great for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Also extremely high in antioxidants, and can reduce the risk of cancer and liver disease, while also boosting immune health and urinary tract and gut health. They can also be great for Oral health, as they reduce the amount of acid in your saliva, and keep it from sticking to your teeth.
Just like all fruits and vegetables, these fall favorites are packed with plenty of vitamins and minerals. Many of these are specifically rich in dietary fiber and antioxidants, which means the fall season should be a great opportunity for us to manage our blood levels and our digestive health.
What about the spices? How do those benefit us?
- Extremely high in antioxidants, and can reduce the risk of heart disease and inflammation. Also excellent for managing blood sugar levels. Potentially help to reduce the risk or effect of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Also had ani fungal and antibacterial properties, and can help prevent tooth decay.
- Technically derived from a dried berry, allspice has been used to reduce inflammation, and treat nausea. It’s also beneficial for infection prevention, pain relief, and reduction of menopause symptoms.
- Can help balance blood sugar levels, prevent bacteria growth, reduce inflammation and reduce the chances of developing ulcers. May also be linked to liver health and reduced risk of fatty liver disease.
- Also high in antioxidants, and surprisingly found in several dental products, nutmeg has been shown to protect against oral pathogens that cause disease and bad breath. Nutmeg has also been used to improve or balance moods, and can possibly help improve sleep quality.
- Ginger’s main bioactive compound is Gingerol, which is a strong antioxidant with inflammatory properties. Excellent for treating nausea and motion sickness, and has been shown to help with indigestion and menstrual pains. Also great for balancing blood levels, cancer prevention, and protection against Alzheimer’s.
We’d like to mention that although the above spices do have health benefits, it’s important to not overdo it. Specifically with nutmeg, as consuming 2+ teaspoons in one sitting can be toxic.
We’d also like to come back to a point we mentioned earlier, that all these spices as considered “Warming spices” This means that they literally have the ability to raise your body’s internal temperature, which makes them perfect for cooler weather. The science behind this is slightly different for every spice, but the knowledge and use of these properties are far from new. Ayurvedic tenets hold that our metabolism needs to work harder in winter to fuel the inner digestive fire and that warming foods and spices are needed to stay healthy, with balanced energy systems. In Chinese medicine, these are referred to as yang foods, which are responsible for the activation and warming of bodily functions that keep us healthy and facilitate the flow of qi, our personal energy.
This is far from an exhaustive list, and we encourage you to explore more information on each item if it interests you. We hope if nothing else this has encouraged you to appreciate the flavors of fall with a new lens, one that shows the rich history, tradition, and nutritional science of why these flavors are so popular as the weather starts to cool down.
If you’re interested in indulging in some fall flavors, follow us on social media to see what we’ve got cooking, and watch for our seasonal specials, like mini apple cobblers, and cranberry pistachio muffins (all gluten and sugar-free, as always).