Alberta Cancer Foundation

Healthy Harvest

This fall, take the orange hue of the leaves outside as your reminder to eat well. People know that eating greens is good for your health, but so is eating orange. Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating recommends eating one dark green and one orange vegetable per day.

Orange vegetables get their great colour from beta carotene that your body converts to vitamin A, which is essential for growth and development, immune system function and maintaining normal vision. Beta carotene is also a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage. Orange vegetables are a great source of potassium, which is important for maintaining a normal blood pressure and nerve and muscle function. A diet high in a variety of vegetables can help reduce the risk of cancers in the stomach, mouth and throat.

To boost the orange factor, include carrots, squash, pumpkin and sweet potatoes in your diet. Canada’s Food Guide suggests that apricots, cantaloupes, mangoes, nectarines, papaya and peaches can be substituted for these vegetables. Here are a few ways to consider adding orange vegetables to your day.

Carrots are easy to find, inexpensive and keep well. Another selling point: They can be added easily to your diet. Baby carrots or raw carrot sticks are a tasty snack food. Add grated carrots to muffins, pasta sauce and green salads. Julienne or dice them to add to soups, stews and stir fries.

Fall is a great time to experiment with squash. Hubbard, butternut and acorn squash are packed with taste and nutrients. If dealing with a hard-skinned winter squash daunts you, look for precut squash or ask your grocer if he’ll cut one up for you.
To cook squash, preheat oven to 400°F, cut squash in half and remove all the seeds. Cut the squash into slices that are a half- to one-inch thick and place them on a cookie sheet that you’ve sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the squash is tender.

Cooked and diced squash can be added to homemade or canned soups. Or puree the cooked squash and freeze it in small containers for later use in baking, soups, stews, pancakes or muffins.

Sweet potatoes can be used in place of white potatoes. Sweet potato fries have become commonplace, but there are healthier ways to eat them. Like squash, pureed sweet potato can be added to pancake or muffin batter. Shred raw sweet potato into your cabbage for colour in your coleslaw. Mix steamed sweet potato with tofu and broccoli, and add your favourite salad dressing.

You may think of adding it to pumpkin breads or pumpkin pie, but there are other ways to use this versatile vegetable. You can use canned or homemade pumpkin puree to make a rich-tasting soup. (See the recipe above.)

Apricots, cantaloupes, mangoes, nectarines, papaya and peaches count as beta carotene-rich orange foods. These are delicious seasonally and you can keep a few cans of peaches on hand for an easy dessert or to toss into a breakfast smoothie.

Karol Sekulic is a registered dietitian with expertise and interest in the areas of weight management, nutrition and communications.