It’s no coincidence that the shift to shorter days and harsher conditions coincides with the emergence of hardier fruits and vegetables. Thicker skin, more substantial leaves and, most relevant to this article, produce that is absolutely packed with health-promoting compounds is the feature of this month’s food as medicine post. As a naturopathic doctor, I believe food is one of our most powerful medicines. And what a treat October turns out to be, with some of the most impressive fruits and vegetables in season to enjoy. If you’d like to start at the beginning, you can find my first food as medicine post here.
As I mentioned in my September food as medicine post, what’s in season will vary from state to state. I recently discovered this great interactive map by Epicurious that allows you to see what’s in season where you live and I encourage you to check it out.
Broccoli – This hardy green is just one of six modern vegetables derived from the same wild plant, called colewort. Collard, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower have also been selectively bred from colewort and it’s for this reason that these vegetables have a similar flavor profile and medicinal qualities. The Brassica vegetables have many nutrients and biochemical substances, such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, carotenoids, bioflavonoids, sulfur, dithiolethiones, and glucosinolates. More importantly, these vegetables enhance the body’s cancer-fighting abilities, possess antioxidant effects, and remove harmful chemical additives, such as radiation. According to the American Cancer Society and Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating, it is recommended to include the Brassica vegetables in the daily diet, especially in women, because of their nutritional value and medicinal properties.
Brussels sprouts – Although they look a bit different, Brussels sprouts are a sibling of broccoli and part of the same colewort family. A more similar sibling, at least in appearance is cabbage. In fact, Brussels sprouts are just the lateral buds of the same plant, where larger cabbage is the terminal bud. Brussels sprouts contain more than 80 micronutrients and make a nice complement to the more traditional antioxidants (A, C and E) and phytochemicals found in fruit, as the compounds in Brussels sprouts have their greatest action in the liver, the body’s detoxification center. From a preventative perspective, combining a spectrum of cellular antioxidants plus liver protective compounds is a powerful combination to any chronic disease pathway from cancer, to diabetes and aging.
Pomegranates – One pomegranate delivers approximately 40 percent of an adult’s daily vitamin C requirement and is high in polyphenol compounds. These compounds are thought to reduce “silent inflammation,” which research has suggested is at the root of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Preliminary research also suggests that pomegranate may be beneficial as an antioxidant and as a treatment for atherosclerosis, erectile dysfunction, high cholesterol, and prostate cancer. An interesting caution to keep in mind with this fruit is that, similar to grapefruit, pomegranate contains compounds that inhibit the CYP450 pathway in the liver. This pathway is critical to the metabolism of many prescription drugs and for this reason, these fruits should be taken away from many prescription medications.
Pumpkins – A cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin contains more than 200 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A, delivered in the form of beta-carotene, a compound that avoids the toxicity risks of vitamin A as a standalone compound. Another interesting fact about pumpkins: a cup of cooked pumpkin has more potassium than an equivalent cup of banana. Potassium works in partnership with sodium as an important electrolyte in the body and is critical to maintaining healthy muscle and heart function.
Pumpkin seeds – If you’ve heard about the sleepy compound, l-tryptophan, found in turkey, beware of pumpkin seeds as well which also happen to be a significant source of this amino-acid. L-tryptophan also happens to be a precursor to the hormone serotonin which is one of the major mood influencing chemicals in our brains. Pumpkin seeds also provide significant levels of magnesium, vitally important for the creation of energy in the body and zinc, which supports immune system function, sleep, mood and insulin regulation. Finally, pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of the essential fatty acid ALA that promotes a healthy inflammatory response in the body.
Star fruit – This is a truly beautiful star-shaped fruit that makes a wonderfully crisp and visually appealing addition to any autumn-inspired salad. And this fruit is not all about looks, a cup provides a full 62 percent of the daily value of vitamin C. Interestingly, however, if you have impaired kidney function, take note. High levels of a compound called oxalic acid in this fruit can accumulate in the kidneys and become toxic. Star fruit intoxication can develop in patients with kidney failure after eating as little as one half of a fruit or drinking less than eight ounces of star fruit juice. Symptoms of star fruit intoxication include persistent hiccups, nausea, vomiting, agitation, insomnia, mental confusion and convulsions that occur within one to five hours of eating the fruit. Unfortunately, sometimes the medicine found in food is not always positive.
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