Seasonal Sustenance

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”   —Albert Camus

After months of sunshine, labor, and cultivation, the harvest season has arrived with its bounty: farmers’ markets flourish and grocery stores brim with regional produce. In Montana, where over 70% of our food comes from out of state, autumn is the perfect time to support and enjoy local agriculture. Not only does eating locally sustain our economy and our environment, but the fresh food is also more nutritious.

Because of its growing season patterns, many fruits and vegetables that arrive earlier in other places are finally coming into season in Montana. Perhaps one of the most anticipated is the tomato. Ripe from July to October, this versatile fruit can be enjoyed fresh off the vine, sundried, chopped into a salsa, grilled, baked, and more. Tomatoes are a great source of lycopene, a bright red pigment associated with reduction in cancer, macular degeneration, and cardiovascular disease. New studies even link lycopene consumption to a decreased risk for osteoporosis. To intensify the flavor, try salting your tomatoes an hour before using them in a recipe—then drain off the liquid, rinse, and enjoy.

Fantastically nutritious, easy to store, and tasty, pumpkins are a hallmark of the fall. Low in calories, fat, and cholesterol, and high in fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, these vegetables can easily be used in sweet or savory dishes. High levels of beta-carotene (an inactive form of Vitamin A), make pumpkins a good choice for protection from free radical damage and cancer, increased immune system and reproductive functioning, and better skin health. Interestingly, synthetic beta-carotene supplements are associated with lung and colon cancers, so consumption of the vitamin from natural sources is far superior. And don’t forget pumpkin seeds, which are some of the most flavorful and healthy seeds around.

The Brassica family is another cool-season group that finds its stride in the autumn months. Turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, rutabaga, mustard seed, cabbage, and boc choy are among some of the most nutritious and healing foods around. Two distinct compounds, indoles and sulfuraphanes, have powerful cancer-quenching properties, including tumor growth suppression and support of the body’s elimination of carcinogenic substances. A lesser-known tidbit: Brassica vegetables aid our liver in detoxifying and balancing hormones, particularly estrogen. These cruciferous vegetables are great in a variety of recipes, but should always be steamed lightly or cooked for those with thyroid disease.

The foods highlighted here are only some of the many delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables that come into season in the autumn. To cover the nutritional benefits of all autumnal foods would take a book, at least! In short: the more local, whole foods you have in your diet, the better you, your community, and your planet will be.

Local fruit and veggie lover Holcomb Johnston is a naturopathic physician at Sweetgrass Natural Medicine in downtown Bozeman.