[This article was originally published for The Alternative Daily here.]
The months of autumn are a favorite among many — and for good reason. It’s the season of warm colors, delicious aromas and a myriad of flavors to keep things interesting in the kitchen. Many of these foods just happen to be orange, and they come loaded with vitamins and minerals to keep you healthy during the holidays. Here are seven orange foods that you should eat more of, and not just during autumn!
First on any fall-inspired list, pumpkins are more than just a carver’s blank canvas. These veggies are chock full of vitamin A to keep your eyes healthy — just one single-cup serving contains 245 percent of your daily recommended intake. And don’t forget the pumpkin seeds! They offer plenty of fiber to help keep you regular after all those hearty holiday meals.
You can get endlessly creative with pumpkin recipes too — try pumpkin lasagna, pumpkin smoothies or gluten-free pumpkin pancakes. There’s even pumpkin hummus! If you buy a pumpkin whole, we recommend choosing an organic variety to maximize the health benefits.
2. Sweet potatoes
There are few things in life that we adore more than delicious and versatile sweet potatoes. They taste so naturally sweet, you’d think they were full of unhealthy sugar. But thanks to a low glycemic index, the sugar is actually released into the bloodstream at a slow and steady pace, providing a sustainable source of energy without the sugar crash.
Like other orange foods, sweet potatoes are filled to the brim with beta-carotene. This crafty pigment is converted by the body into vitamin A to give you healthy skin, improve your vision, and reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease. Even your dogs will love them.
3. Butternut squash
This naturally low-fat nutritional powerhouse packs quite a punch at the dinner table. First, it contains 3.3 grams of fiber in a single one-cup serving, keeping you fuller for longer. It’s also a good source of vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, manganese and potassium, which can help to lower your blood pressure. Whether baked or boiled, sautéed or steamed, this is one ingredient we can’t get enough of. And yes, the seeds are edible as well. Try them roasted to mix up your healthy holiday snacks.
This bright orange superstar spice belongs on our list for its inflammation-fighting powers. Chronic inflammation caused by a poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle paves the way for dangerous diseases over the long haul, including cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and more. Adding turmeric to your diet is a simple way to add a kick of flavor to your dishes while allowing your body to do what it does best: keep you healthy. The active compound in turmeric — curcumin — is on par with over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, without all the harmful side effects.
In addition to helping reduce inflammation, turmeric can aid digestion, control unwanted facial hair, eliminate dandruff, enhance memory, fade stretch marks, alleviate depression and more. Is there anything it can’t do? Maybe, but this beloved Indian spice continues to surge in popularity year after year as the world discovers its overall health benefits. Google searches for turmeric increased 300 percent in the last five years, along with other superfoods like coconut oil and apple cider vinegar. Go ahead — jump on the bandwagon if you haven’t already.
Remember: always eat black pepper with turmeric to increase curcumin absorption.
Carrot and coriander soup, anyone? Carrots are a great addition to seasonal entrees and soups during the cool and cozy fall months. Or, if you need a bit of a detox after all of the holiday festivities, add carrots to your freshly squeezed juice or smoothie for a nutritional boost. Well known for their beta-carotene content, carrots can do way more than just improve your night vision. These sweet and crunchy treats can slow the aging of skin cells, reduce chronic inflammation, lower your risk of stroke and even keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Typically grown from October through February, these “fruits of the gods” offer several health benefits. For starters, they contain useful antioxidants and polyphenols to improve cardiovascular health. The high fiber content helps prevent the formation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, reducing the overall risk of plaque buildup in your arteries.
Enjoy sweet and crunchy persimmons the same way you’d enjoy apples. Eat them raw for a healthy snack or bake them into pies, cookies, scones and homemade bread. The possibilities are endless!
No list of orange foods would be complete without the humble orange itself. With cold and flu season just around the corner, it’s best to start stocking up on vitamin C now so you’re at your best during the holidays. Oranges also fight heart disease, support healthy brain function and prevent constipation. Like lemons, oranges alkalize your body and keep your pH in check to prevent the onset of infections.
Oranges make a great complement to an array of entrees and desserts, from sweet to savory. Whether topped on seared wild-caught Alaskan salmon, or used to give salad dressing an extra kick, these juicy health-boosting fruits are a great way to dress up your holiday meals.
Orange foods (and drinks) to consume less of
If it’s not orange by nature, chances are you shouldn’t be putting it in your body. Anything with a bright orange artificial hue probably also contains more chemicals and preservatives than you can count on one hand — maybe even two. Here are seven orange products to avoid during your next trip to the grocery store.
1. Pumpkin spice latte
At the risk of being unpopular, we think you should scratch this drink off your list. Just one 16-ounce cup could set you back 350 calories and load you up with 50 grams of sugar — that’s twice the daily recommended intake for a female! Why not make your own latte at home and save yourself a few bucks? What you sacrifice in sweetness you’ll make up for in all-natural goodness.
2. Canned pumpkin pie mix
Pumpkin pie mix is very different from pure pumpkin puree. Though the cans may look similar, pumpkin pie mix includes at least 15 grams of sugar for every one-third of a cup. A can of pure pumpkin puree, on the other hand, contains only four grams of natural sugar per serving.
If you need to naturally sweeten up your pumpkin puree, try some unrefined alternatives like raw honey, dates, maple syrup, stevia or coconut sugar. And remember, if you buy pure pumpkin in a can, make sure it’s organic and free from any unnecessary chemicals. Always check the labels!
Let’s clarify. There’s nothing wrong with cheese — that is, there’s nothing wrong with free-range, grass-fed, organic cheese sourced reliably. But all too often we eat processed cheese that’s terrible for our health, clogging our arteries and putting growth hormones and antibiotics into our system.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Ever notice how Kraft Singles are now labeled as a “cheese product” in stores? There’s a reason for that! Of the 15 ingredients per slice, cheese culture is last on the list. These days, it’s best to avoid any cheese that’s not 100 percent natural.
4. Cheese chips and crackers
While you’re gathered on the couch watching scary Halloween movies, chances are some cheese-flavored chips or crackers will make an appearance. However, you should know that these foods are designed to make you eat the whole box or bag. Processed foods often contain known cancer-causing chemicals, GMOs, preservatives, vegetable oils, food additives and boatloads of sugar hidden under various names. The truly scary part? Processed food is addictive to the body, much like cocaine or nicotine. Read the labels on these cheese imposters, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a chemical that you can identify as natural — let alone pronounce!
5. Candy corn
For starters, there’s no actual corn in candy corn, unless you count the processed corn syrup. The list of ingredients varies depending on the manufacturer, but these traditional Halloween candies are made of a combination of sugar, corn syrup, wax, artificial coloring, binders and animal gelatin. Yikes!
Make sure to check the labels on Halloween candy in general. Chances are, it’s loaded up with junk to keep you reaching for more. It’s all too easy to get carried away this time of year. If you’ve got a hankering for something sweet, try nature’s candy instead: dates.
6. Orange juice
We’re not talking about juice squeezed straight from an orange, because that would be healthy for you. We’re talking about the store-bought stuff loaded up with chemicals, preservatives, artificial flavors and sugar. When fruit drinks enter your system, you can expect a chemically-induced rush of energy. However, what goes up must come down, right? In about thirty minutes, you’ll wish you had sipped on something a bit more sustainable. Your best bet is to juice oranges yourself. Or, consider adding orange wedges to a smoothie for added fiber and a slow release of energy.
7. Sweet potato fries
While sweet potatoes alone are healthy, the process of frying is anything but. Fried foods are typically soaked in hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. These trans fats are known to clog arteries and increase rates of heart disease and colon cancer, among other diseases. Fried foods can even induce anxiety. Stay away!
In the cool fall weather, why not cozy up at home and prepare a baked homemade version instead? Preheat the oven to 400°F and cut a few organic sweet potatoes into “fry” shapes. Next, toss them into a bowl with organic olive oil and a liberal amount of spices — we love pink Himalayan salt, lemon pepper, cajun seasoning, garlic powder and cayenne. Maybe even add that dash of turmeric to help reduce inflammation. Bake for 15 minutes, flip, then bake for another 15 minutes until crispy.
We promise you’ll never feel the need to go back to those greasy sweet potato fries again — or quite possibly the potato ones either. These healthy sweet potato “fries” will change your palette (and your waistline) for good.
-- Hilary Lebow