Autumn

Seasonal Moods

Apples

There are few things which sum up the arrival of autumn as well as crisp English apples. Bursting with flavour, these lunchbox staples are a culinary treat. And as well as tasting fantastic the old saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ is quite true.

Many of the health benefits of these easy to come by fruits are due to the fact they are packed with flavonoids. Flavinoids are highly effective antioxidant compound found in fruit and vegetables.The quercetin and naringin flavonoids have been credited with reducing the risk of contracting lung cancer. And it’s thought that quercetin may also protect brain cells from the kind of free radical damage that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Phloridzin – only found in apples – seems to protect post-menopausal women from osteoporosis and could even increase bone density. Apples also contain boron which is a bone strengthener.

Pectin is also plays an important part in the benefits of apples. It helps lower the body’s need for insulin so it’s great if you are diabetic or on a diet. Pectin has been found to lower bad cholesterol too – researchers discovered that eating just apples two a day can bring it down by as much as 16 percent.

Apples really are coming into their best right now so it’s a great time to enjoy them – especially cooking apples like Bramley’s which you will find are for flavourful than ever.

Ginger

It might look like a knobbly old bit of root which belongs in the bin rather than the kitchen, but throughout history this understated looking herb (commonly known as a spice) has been revered for its health giving properties.

Its aromatic and pungent flavour is synonymous with Asian cookery and it can be bought all year round. The thickness of the skin indicates how old the plant was when it was harvested. The ginger plant is approximately 30 – 60 cm tall and is extremely rare to find in the wild.

Ginger’s ability to relieve stomach problems and nausea has been documented for hundreds of years. The oils which create the hot flavour trigger more digestive enzymes to be produced. This helps the whole digestion process and neutralizes the acids that can cause nausea, cramps and diarrhoea.

And research is pointing to interesting new health benefits. Much has been made of the way in which ginger seems to slow the growth or even kill off certain cancer cells. It’s also helpful for lowering bad cholesterol as it reduces the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed. Ginger can also help reduce inflammation, so can be used to treat any disease that is caused by inflammations such as arthritis

And there are more reasons to reach for the ginger. If you have a migraine it can help by making you less sensitive to the pain and reducing the inflammation in your blood vessels. If you feel yourself coming down with a fever it’s fantastic as a natural decongestant and can stimulate sweating – sweat contains a potent germ-fighting agent that may help fight off infections.

The best thing about ginger is you don’t need very much to benefit from its healing properties.

Pecans

The buttery but almost maple-syrup like tang of pecan nuts is unmistakable. The tree that bears the nuts is a member of the hickory family and they originate from central and southern America. They are the most antioxidant-rich tree nut and rank among the top 15 foods with the highest levels of antioxidants in the world.

Pecans contain 19 vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, B, and E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. They are a rich source of heart healthy oleic acid, the same type of fatty acid found in olive oil. This has been found to help prevent breast cancer. Pecans can also protect your heart as they lower ‘bad’ cholesterol thanks to a compound called beta-sitosterol.

These tasty nuts are also surprisingly high in copper, a trace element used for energy, nervous system function and the formation of connective tissue. Their impressive magnesium content is a fantastic for lowering blood pressure, acting as an anti-inflammatory within the body and reducing stroke risk.

There are plenty of reasons to include them in your diet.

Butternut Squash

Though it’s only become a favourite in our shopping baskets in the last decade, winter squash, like Butternut and Pumpkin, have been part of the Native Americans’ diet for more than 5,000 years.

Thankfully we are starting to realise that these brightly coloured autumn vegetables are not just something to carve up at Halloween but also a tasty treat on the dinner table.

Just like the summer squash variety (which includes courgettes, melon and cucumber) winter squash really packs a nutritional punch and can brighten up your health as much as your dinner plate.

In fact it’s the vibrant flesh which holds the key to its most important benefits – the richer the colour, the richer the concentration of carotenes. These provide a protective effect against many cancers, particularly lung cancer. Carotenes have also been shown to offer protection heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

If that wasn’t enough, winter squash also offers a great source of vitamins B1 and B6 and C, which are perfect at this time of year as B vitamins help convert blood sugar into energy and vitamin C boosts your immune system. Just what the doctor ordered as the nights pull in making us all feel sleepy and the snuffles and colds start doing the rounds.

Aubergine

Whether you called them aubergine, eggplant or brinjal, this vegetable – which is actually a berry – can be found all over the world in local cuisine. Originally grown in India they can now be found in many shapes, sizes and colours around the globe.

Aubergines are very low in calories and a great source of fibre so their meaty texture make them brilliant for dieters and can bulk out heavier meat dishes to make them less calorific. They are also useful in vegetarian cooking to create texture.

These superfoods are also a good source of calcium and phosphorus for teeth and bones and potassium for the proper function of all cells, tissues, and organs in the human body. Pregnant women and those hoping to conceive will benefit from the folic acid content too. Aubergines have also been found to help keep cholesterol levels low.

Historically aubergines needed salting to reduce their bitter taste and moisture but most aubergines on the market now are not as bitter as they once were. However, salting does help to reduce aubergine’s ability to absorb oil while cooking so anyone wanting to cut their calorie intake might want to still salt them.

Figs

One of the most delicious fruits of autumn has to be figs. They might not look much on the outside but their jewel coloured interior and unique sweet flavour is certainly something to cushion the blow of summer ending.

There are more than 150 different varieties of fig and their complex mixture of chewy flesh, smooth skin and crunchy seeds with sweet juice has been celebrated throughout the ages.

Thought to have originated in Egypt, they have been documented in texts for centuries. They were prized in ancient Greece and subject to strict export laws. The Romans saw them as a sacred fruit and they are mentioned in the Bible. And it’s no surprise figs have always been so appreciated.

Not only are they essential for helping control blood pressure, they are also a good source of potassium – which many of us lack in our diet. It can help negate the effects on the body of sodium, so anyone who eats out a lot or enjoys a lot of salty processed foods could do well to add some fresh or dried figs to their daily diet.

They would also be beneficial to those needing to increase the fibre content of their diet. They are a great source of both soluble and insoluble fibre. The insoluble helps with the prevention of some cancers and soluble slows digestion which helps control blood sugar levels – this can make you feel fuller for longer.

It may surprise you to learn that figs contain a good dose of calcium, so are great for supporting bone health and growth and reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis. They are also a great vegetarian source of iron which will help you feel perky as the nights draw in!

Chesnuts

Chestnuts used to be seen as something to be roasted on an open fire at Christmas, but increasingly we are adopting a more European attitude to these sweet and crumbly nuts and using them in a wide range of meals all year round.

Unlike most other nuts, chestnuts are actually low in fat. So much so they are often seen as comparable to grains – you can even buy chestnut flour too.

On top of that they are packed with dietary fibre, as well as potassium, magnesium and phosphorus which will help keep you feeling perky over the winter months when coughs and colds are lurking.

They also contain vitamin c, iron and b vitamins – all of which can help keep energy levels up and give a feeling of wellbeing as well as boosting your immune system too.

Pears

As we reach the end of the pear season it’s your last chance to make the most of these fruits that ancient Greek poet Homer once called the “gift of the gods”. As well as their heavenly taste, they are also saintly with a fabulous nutritional content thanks to the vitamins, antioxidants and fibre they contain.

Often described as a hypoallergenic fruit (as allergies to them are rare), pears are often the first fruit we taste as they are suggested as perfect weaning food for babies attempting their first solids.

Pears provide a very good source of fibre and are also a good source of vitamin B2, C, E, copper, and potassium. They also contain a significant amount of pectin, which is a water soluble fibre.

Pears trump their fruit bowl rivals apples in several ways. They are higher in pectin, which helps lower cholesterol levels. As a type of soluble fibre it binds to fats in the digestive tract so they are eliminated, whilst at the same time helping regulate blood sugar levels. Pears also contain a great source of dietary fibre when the skin is eaten.