The fall season is rich with the color orange. From leaves to pumpkins, this warm and vibrant color is all around us. But did you know that orange is also a very nourishing color?
Orange foods like winter squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, and bell peppers, all products of the fall harvest, contain powerful phytonutrients called “carotenoids” including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthan. Our bodies turn some carotenoids into active Vitamin A, which plays an important role in bone growth, tooth development, reproduction, cell division, gene expression, and regulation of the immune system. Carotenoid-rich foods can even help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and improve immune system function. The deeper the orange or yellow color in foods, the more carotenoids they contain.
The beautiful orange foods provided by the fall season are also a great source of fiber. Fiber is essential for cardiovascular and digestive health and helps the body to regulate blood sugar. A few orange fall favorites are highlighted below.
Colorado carrots are typically available August through November, but they’ve been known to pop up at farmers’ markets as early as July. In addition to their earthy sweetness, carrots also supply a good source of vitamin C and fiber. Carrots are one of the richest sources of beta-carotene, a pre-curser to vitamin A, with one cup of sliced carrots providing more than the recommended daily amount of vitamin A.
Squash is available in both winter and summer varieties, but winter squash provides the richest orange pigment in its flesh. Winter squash is a great source of complex carbohydrates and fiber, and the varieties with deep yellow/orange flesh are highest in beta-carotene. Winter squash like butternut squash, acorn squash, and pumpkin, have hard shell-like skins and are available in Colorado August through December.
A variety of bell peppers are available in Colorado from July to October. All bell peppers, regardless of color, are a great source of antioxidants, providing both carotenoids and vitamin C. Of all the colors, however, red and orange bell peppers contain the highest amounts of the phytonutrients beta-carotene and lycopene. Red peppers are also an excellent source of vitamin B6 and have been shown to reduce the risk for certain types of cancers.
Sweet potatoes do not typically grow well in Colorado due to our short growing season and cool nights. They prefer a warmer growing season, and their peak harvest is late October through December. While they may not be local, sweet potatoes can usually be found at any grocery store. Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C, B vitamins, iron, and phosphorus. As a result, sweet potatoes help to boost the immune system and protect us from illness as we move through the fall and winter months. For the most bang for your buck, choose sweet potatoes that have a deep orange or even purple flesh.