by guest blogger Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, integrative medicine pioneer
Our relationship with food is constantly evolving. In the past few years, many of us have embraced localism, doing the extra work to find items that are locally grown and raised rather than shipped thousands of miles from foreign locations. We do this for a variety of reasons: respect for the environment, support for local farmers, and the desire to eat the freshest food possible among them.
But there’s an even deeper layer. Many whole foods have important therapeutic properties and are most potent at specific times of the year, when they’re in season. By taking full advantage of seasonal produce, we harmonize with the rhythms of nature, enrich local economies, and boost our overall health.
Here are some great superfoods that are in season in fall:
High in fiber and powerhouse flavonoids like quercetin, apples also contain pectin, which is good for the digestive tract, helping to remove toxins as well as supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria. In addition, apples support heart health and immunity. They reduce the risk of diabetes, combat inflammation, and may protect the brain.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and kale produce a compound called diindolylmethane (DIM), which supports hormonal balance and immune health and helps fight cancer. These vegetables are also high in sulfur compounds that help detoxify the body. Cruciferous brussels sprouts are in season and are rich in vitamins, calcium, and flavonoids.
Another cruciferous vegetable, cauliflower is high in phytonutrients and vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, iron, and potassium.
A delicious fall crop, pears are rich in both fiber and vitamins, particularly vitamin C. They are also a good source of antioxidants, can help control cholesterol, and may have anti-cancer properties.
Butternut squash offers a good source of vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids. It’s full of fiber, minerals, and carotenoids, which protect the heart. And don’t forget pumpkin, which is rich in potassium and B vitamins.
High in nutrients and fiber, yams are also good for the heart. They provide potassium, which can help support healthy blood pressure.
Pomegranates are rich with antioxidants, vitamin C, and folate. The seeds are also a source of omega-5 fatty acid, which benefits skin health, along with ellagic acid, an antioxidant and anti-cancer nutrient. Pomegranates are known to support heart, prostate, and cellular health, as well as digestive function.
Dates are perhaps the most popular fruit in the Middle East but have never quite gotten a foothold in the West. That’s too bad; they’re high in both fiber and potassium and can help strengthen cardiovascular health.
Chestnuts (roasting on an open fire or not) are high in fiber and B vitamins and have been found to boost immune health.
Culinary medicinal mushrooms are delicious and nutritious and have a beneficial impact on immune and overall health. Fall is the best time of year for a variety of beneficial mushrooms, particularly shiitake, maitake, and oyster. Mushrooms are prized for their health benefits because they modulate the immune system, both energizing immune cells and helping them respond appropriately to harmful invaders while leaving healthy cells alone. This makes them ideal to both boost immunity and control an overactive immune response.
The key to mushrooms’ immune success is their cell walls, which contain unique carbohydrates such as beta-glucans that have a specific affinity for immune cells. Beta-glucan molecules bind to macrophages, which helps them attack microbes. They also work closely with lymphocytes, T-cells, natural killer (NK) cells, and other immune components.
Mushrooms are rich in alkaloids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants as well. They help control blood pressure and cholesterol, protect the liver, fight inflammation, support cellular health to fight cancer, promote brain health, and enhance digestion and detoxification. They’re also excellent tonics for boosting vital energy and have been revered for thousands of years for promoting stamina and longevity.
Maitake mushrooms are being studied for their ability to protect cellular health and have been shown to reduce blood pressure. They stimulate a variety of immune components, including NK cells and macrophages.
Shiitake mushrooms contain lentinan, a compound that has demonstrated antitumor activity in clinical trials and also protects against bacteria, viruses, and parasites. They reduce cholesterol and can help lower blood pressure.
Oyster mushrooms are full of antioxidants, as well as zinc, calcium, folic acid, potassium, and B vitamins.
In addition to including these mushrooms in a healthy diet, I also recommend adding a mushroom formula that incorporates six mushroom varieties, including coriolus, reishi, agaricus, cordyceps, umbellatus, and maitake. These are grown organically on a blend of immune-enhancing herbs—a special cultivation process that enhances their benefits. The formula supports immunity and cellular and cardiovascular health and boosts vital energy.
New research on nutrition is confirming what many ancient practices have known for millennia: Food can be medicine. And like many types of medicines, food is most beneficial when it’s freshest. I encourage everyone to explore their surrounding neighborhoods for organic groceries and farmers markets. I also recommend joining community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs), which deliver a weekly box of organic, seasonal fruits and vegetables. A diet emphasizing fresh, local, seasonal produce is a great way to enhance nutrition and support good health and the environment.
Sharing this cornucopia with your loved ones during the holidays is another way to celebrate abundant health!
Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, integrates Western medicine with his extensive knowledge of traditional Chinese, Tibetan, Ayurvedic, homeopathic, and complementary medical systems. With more than 25 years of clinical experience and research, Dr. Eliaz has a unique holistic approach to the relationship between health and disease, immune enhancement, detoxification, and cancer prevention and treatment. For more information about his work, visit dreliaz.org.