If we could choose one color to represent the autumn season, it would be orange. From the crunchy leaves beneath our feet to the healthy, sweet taste of orange vegetables like pumpkin, yams, butternut squash and sweet potatoes, orange is the color of the harvest–and it boasts big health benefits.
What’s So Healthy About Orange-Hued Food?
The orange color in vegetables comes from a very powerful carotenoid antioxidant compound called beta-carotene. It’s been celebrated for its ability to boost the immune system by fighting free radicals, thus protecting our cells from damage. It helps improve eyesight, keeps our reproductive system healthy and has been shown to have cancer-fighting properties. No wonder orange vegetables are so common in the diets of Chinese centenarians! And as a bonus, even though orange vegetables are sweet and satisfying, they’re often very low in calories.
Sweet Potatoes Balance the Glycemic Index
Sweet potatoes, along with many other orange foods, help balance the glycemic index in the body, which controls how the body responds to the food you eat. When someone has an insulin resistance condition, their body responds to everything they eat by creating more insulin than needed, increasing risk for type-2 diabetes, rapid aging, cancer and other diseases. Eating sweet potatoes can help slow this process down.
So instead of white mashed potatoes, think mashed sweet potatoes! And instead of regular potato chips, try crunchy baked sweet potato chips.
Pumpkins Pump Up Your Antioxidants
Think beyond the jack-o’-lantern and traditional pumpkin pie! Scrumptious when prepared as a soup, as a side dish with your favorite meal, or baked in a sweet treat, pumpkins are packed with disease-fighting nutrients. They are rich in potassium and a good source of iron, zinc and fiber. The bright-orange flesh is loaded with beta-carotene, which keeps your immune system strong, benefits vision, helps prevent heart disease, and may defend against cancer. The pumpkin is also the perfect fit for losing weight due to its incredibly low-calorie and high-fiber content. The sweetest taste can be found in the small-sized pumpkin varieties known as sugar pumpkin or pie pumpkin. Try roasting pumpkin and then topping with crunchy pumpkin seeds–a simple strategy to create a fantastic side dish.
Butternut Squash Boosts Beta-Carotene
A close cousin to the pumpkin, butternut squash has a sweet flavor and is rich in vitamins A, B and C. While all winter squashes contain beta-carotene, butternut squash has an extra-high content, rivaling that of mangoes and cantaloupe. Beta-carotene has very powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and is said to help prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the vessels; in other words, no plaque develops that can cause restricted blood flow and lead to heart disease. Butternut squash is perfect for cutting in half and baking, flesh-side down in the oven for a tasty side dish.