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Get the gold out of autumnal foods
The harvest season, teeming farmers markets and plentiful gardens, yields nutritional gold with delicious foods abundant in color and nutrients protective against disease and supportive of vibrant living. - photo by Erica Hansen MS, RD, CD
American author Jim Bishop once penned, autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons and nutritionally speaking, he couldnt be more right.

Autumn is a season of harvest when fresh whole foods abound. Farmers markets are teeming with people and produce, and prices for great local goods are at an all time low.

It is a season vibrant with the coloring of leaves in bright and deeper reds and burgundies, oranges, yellows, and muted browns. Gourds and winter squashes like dark orange pumpkins and brighter butternut squash, cheery corn on the cob, potatoes, vibrant tomatoes in all their shades, onions, and robust beets decorate our gardens and plates.

Youve probably heard the nutrition advice to eat colorfully and this is a great time of the year to take that advice to heart. Quite literally actually, because those very same foods bursting with color are also bursting with nutrients and phytochemicals that are heart-protective and fortifying against chronic diseases.

Below are a few ways to make the most of autumnal colors on your plate this season.

Pumpkin is an excellent source of fiber, vitamin K, vitamin A, and iron. Its orange flesh is rich with the phytochemical beta carotene, a nutrient important for supporting immunity, vision, skin and bone health.

It makes an easy and moist addition to healthy baked goods like French toast, pancakes and muffins. It also serves well in sauces, soups and chili.

Butternut squash is a great source of fiber, vitamin A, vitamin, and the mineral potassium. It too is rich in the phytochemical beta carotene.

Pureed butternut squash is delicious pureed in homemade macaroni and cheese, in soup, in a vegetable lasagna or roasted simply with olive oil, salt and pepper in cubes and finished off with the broiler to get a nice golden caramelized finish.

Carrots, rich in vitamins A and K, and beta carotene are delicious raw dipped in hummus or greek yogurt with ranch seasoning, sliced and added to stir fries, shredded in salads, roasted with olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme, or roasted with a little brown sugar and cinnamon with olive oil. I often finely mince a half a cup of carrots and add them to meatloaf undetected. Theyre also great in baked goods like muffins to add moisture.

Tomatoes are high in vitamins A and C and the phytochemical lycopene, instrumental in heart health and prostate cancer protection.

In addition to enjoying a big juicy bite of a garden fresh tomato, some of my favorite ways to eat them include a homemade roasted tomato basil soup, a caprese grilled sandwich and homemade pasta sauce.

Yukon gold potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and potassium, and flavonoids like carotenoids that may be helpful in preventing heart disease by playing a role in lowering blood pressure and blood lipids as well as by acting as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.

Yukon gold potatoes are more moist than white baking potatoes and so require less fat like butter and sour cream for toppings. They have great texture for roasting and mashing.

Lentils come in green, brown, red, and other colors. They are a great source of protein and are extremely high in fiber, and in B vitamins thiamin and folate, and minerals phosphorus, manganese, iron and potassium. Theyre economical and versatile. I enjoy them in this lentil rice bowl dish, added to your normal stews and chili recipes, and on their own are good in soups.

Beets with a reddish purple hue are rich in betalain, the phytochemical responsible for their signature color that acts as an antioxidant in the body. Beets are rich in folate, manganese and fiber. They are delicious oven-roasted, in soup, raw or in salad.

Aim to add a couple cups of red, orange and yellow produce to your plate this season and benefit from the nutritional gold the autumn harvest season has to offer.