3 September Superstars

Taking advantage of fruits and vegetables while they’re abundant means getting them at the peak of flavor, nutrition and affordability.  September represents a bit of a lull in terms of harvesting.  Most of August’s peak harvest is winding down and only a few of what the fall typically has to offer are revved up enough to enjoy right now.  But that doesn’t make this list of three September harvest stars any less brilliant.  Keep your eyes peeled for this month’s three nutrition dynamos:

POMEGRANATES

These exotic fruits are all about the seeds.  Though the juice squeezed from the seeds contains lots of nutrients, the juice won’t have any fiber.  The seeds of one average-sized pomegranate contain about 25% of the daily recommendation for fiber consumption, so eat the seeds whole.  In addition, pomegranate seeds contain vitamin C, folate, vitamin K, copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus and the phytochemicals granatinB and punicalayin.

Thankfully, pomegranate seeds are available year-round either fresh or in the frozen produce section of your grocer.  Snack on them as they are or toss them into salads, hot and cold cereals and grain dishes for crunch and a burst of sweet-tartness.  But, try to get them fresh when you can, because extracting seeds from fresh pomegranates are a fun way to get kids interested in trying something nutritious.

To get to the seeds, cut several deep slits into the outer core of the fruit with a sharp knife.  Submerge the fruit into a large bowl filled with cool tap water and use thumbs to pry apart the fruit along the slits.  Scoop the seeds out or tap the outer shell with the back of a spoon over the bowl, the seeds will separate from the fruit and float in the water.  The bright red flesh and juice will stain, gloves and an apron are recommended.

PUMPKINS

Cooking pumpkins are different from pumpkins used for carving.  The photo shows an example of what a cooking pumpkin looks like.  It’s a huge commitment in time and effort to purchase, prepare and cook fresh pumpkin at home.  So, we’ll all be forgiven if we prefer to buy our pumpkin canned.  If the only ingredient listed is pureed pumpkin, you can be rest assured that it’s just as nutritious as pumpkin prepared from scratch.  And the nutrition profile is pretty spectacular: vitamins A, B-2, B-5, C and E; minerals copper, iron and phosphorus; phytochemicals carotenes, cryptoxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin.  This is usually the only time of year canned pumpkin is readily available in stores.  Don’t buy only one can for that Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, stock up so you can use it year round in casseroles, batters and soups.

And don’t think that the carving pumpkins aren’t nutritionally beneficial.  Save those seeds!  Separate them from the flesh (best done in a bowl of cold water) and spread out over paper towels to drain.  Line baking sheets with parchment, spread prepared seeds in a single layer, sprinkle sparingly with sea salt, bake in 400° oven for approximately ten minutes, or until they just begin to brown.  Store, in the shells, in a sealed container in a cool, dry place indefinitely.  Pumpkin seeds are no slouches when it comes to nutrition.  They contain protein, heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamin B-3, iron, selenium and zinc.

SPINACH

Long known to be a nutrition power house, it’s a well-deserved reputation.  Consume often to get the full benefits of the fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese contained within.  Spinach also has good amounts of vitamins A, C, B-1, B-2, B-3, B-6, B-9 and K and phytonutrients carotene, cryptoxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin.

Consume baby spinach raw.  Mature spinach (pictured) is best tossed into pasta dishes, casseroles, sauces and soups.

See below for a list of health benefits for the nutrients cited in this post.


Vitamins

Vitamin A: Antioxidant that promotes immunity function and eye, skin and red blood cell health

Vitamin B-1 (Thiamin): Aids in metabolism of carbohydrates

Vitamin B-2 (Riboflavin): Necessary for converting food to energy

Vitamin B-3 (Niacin): Necessary for generating energy for cells

Vitamin B-5 (Pantothenic Acid): Metabolic necessity

Vitamin B-6 (Pyridoxine): Necessary for blood health and to feel energized

Vitamin B-9 (Folate): Necessary for the creation of new blood cells

Vitamin C: Antioxidant that boosts immunity

Vitamin E: Antioxidant that promotes healthy skin and eyes and boosts immunity

Vitamin K: Important for healthy blood and bones

Minerals

Calcium: Necessary for strong teeth and bones

Copper: Antioxidant that promotes healthy tissue in the eyes, brain, skin and bones

Iron: Antioxidant necessary for blood health

Magnesium: Helps to control blood glucose and promotes blood vessel health

Manganese: Antioxidant important in bone health and blood sugar regulation

Phosphorus: Promotes healthy bones

Selenium: Antioxidant critical to DNA synthesis

Zinc: Antioxidant needed for healing and healthy skin

Other Important Nutrients

Fiber: Technically not a nutrient but essential for digestive health & an aid in weight control

Phytochemicals/Phytonutrients: Powerful antioxidants found in small amounts in most produce.  Studies indicate phytochemicals are most potent when they’re consumed in the whole foods that contain them naturally and, therefore, aren’t effective in supplement form.  All antioxidants work to repair cell damage and reduce inflammation. Here are some examples of different phytochemicals and the specific area of the body they’ve been discovered to benefit:

  • Carotenes: anti-aging and eye health
  • Cryptoxanthin: anti-inflammatory
  • GranatinB: healing properties
  • Lutein: eye health
  • Punicalayin: heart health
  • Zeaxanthin: eye health

Sources: visualnews.com, wisebread.com, nutrition-and-you.com, Harvard.edu

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