Seasonal superfoods to give your immune system a boost this autumn
While the days might be starting to get a little colder, it's also the perfect time to cosy up and tuck into some tasty seasonal superfoods to boost your immunity this autumn.
Whether you're a fan of the blender, like a homemade hearty meal, or graze throughout the day, incorporating highly nutritious ingredients into what you eat can make the world of difference to your health.
What are superfoods and why do we need them?
"Superfoods as a group, are nutrient-dense foods in an overall balanced diet that are filled with vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre – just as the food mentioned in the list [below is]", says nutritionist Signe Svanfeldt.
And right now, we could especially benefit from an internal pick-me-up.
"Autumn is generally a time filled with lots of activities and people getting back from summer holidays – and can be a stressful time for many. Some find it challenging eating a balanced, nutrient-rich diet during stressful periods – even though we really need healthy fuel for our wellbeing," says Svanfeldt, of healthy eating app Lifesum.
Svanfeldt also points out that we're now switching from doing things outdoors to indoors, which can lead to more germs spreading. "It is, therefore, vital to nourish our immune system in the best way possible to avoid getting ill," she advises.
So, as eating well doesn't mean skimping on taste, here's some of the most nutritious but delicious foods (that don't break the bank) you can add to your shopping list to help you stay well this autumn.
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British apples came into season a little early this year on Monday 26th September, thanks to favourable weather in the spring and summer, according to British Apples & Pears (BAPL). They are second to bananas in terms of fruit affordability, store well in the fridge, travel low food miles to our supermarkets, and are packed full of health benefits.
With October National Cholesterol Month, leading nutritionist Rob Hobson also says, “Recent research has shown apples (and pears) contain several bioactive compounds, including flavonoids, dietary fibre, and antioxidants, that have been individually associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Studies show incorporating apples into our diet helps to lower cholesterol (which can cause problems with the heart), thanks to their pectin (natural fibre) content. Svanfeldt also points out that they're rich in potassium (important for our body's nerve & muscle function, and to regulate blood pressure) and vitamin C (needed for our bone and tissues).
BAPL recommends British Cox apples, which are tart and sweet, one of the most aromatic varieties with a hint of honey, and keep their shape when cooked. This makes them great for Tarte Tatin, chopped into muffin mixes or a salad with blue cheese and celery, or simply paired with rich cheeses. Meanwhile, British Gala are sweet, delicate, light and juicy – a great pick-me-up after exercise.
Often overshadowed by the apple as an on-the-go snack, as mentioned above the humble pear has just as many health benefits and are also versatile in the way you can eat them.
Svanfeldt explains that they're also "filled with fibre (also good for digestion and gut health), potassium and vitamin K (important for coagulation of our blood as well as for our bone health)". Plus, they're high in water content, helping you to keep you full while being low in calories.
"Pears are perfect for making a compote, to serve with pancakes or adding on top to your morning oats or yogurt," Svanfeldt adds. You might also want to try baked pears with cinnamon, poached pear tarts, or simply go back to basics and remember why you should bite into a napkin-held pear more often.
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The sweetest of potatoes, ready to eat as 'fries', crisps, baked, roasted, steamed, tossed in a salad, or however you like.
"These are filled with beta-carotene (important for our skin and eyesight) as well as folate (important for cell renewal and red blood cells)," says Svanfeldt. In the body, beta-carotene converts into vitamin A, which is also known for boosting immunity.
"Sweet potatoes are excellent to roast or to add into a soup or stew," she adds.
Hello October, hello pumpkins. But, while it is of course tradition, you might want to try being a little more resourceful this year with your carving and use discarded parts for a highly nutritious warming meal.
"Pumpkins, just like sweet potatoes, are packed with beta-carotene and potassium, and make a perfect base to a soup. Spice it up with ginger, green curry and garlic and you have the perfect soup this autumn," suggests Svanfeldt.
Beetroot doesn't just have to be eaten in salad – you can have it in falafel, in your pizza base, and even in cake.
"Beetroots are high in folate as well as nitrate, which can transform into nitric oxide and enhance exercise performance," according to Svanfeldt, which is one of their main perks. Some studies suggest that athletes benefit from eating them in their diet, with it thought to help endurance, and even recovery due to the nitrates bringing more oxygen to muscles.
Red bell peppers
Red bell peppers are packed-full of vitamin C, and according to Svanfeldt, just one of the delightful shiny veggies "almost contains twice our daily requirement of vitamin C".
Vitamin C is great for helping to protect cells and keep them healthy, maintaining healthy skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage and wound healing. Red bell peppers also contain vitamin K1, vitamin E, vitamin A, folate, and potassium.
Svanfeldt recommends that they're perfect to either eat raw (as this is how they keep their high vitamin C content), or to roast in the oven and then mix into a spread with some nice spices like chilli and garlic.
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Svanfeldt points out that cauliflower isn't only high in fibre, which we've learnt is vital for our digestion, and potassium, which we've learnt is great for regulating internal systems in our body, but it's also high in magnesium, which is important for muscle & nerve function. It also helps turn the food we eat into energy and ensure the parathyroid glands, which produce hormones important for bone health, work normally.
Some studies suggest it can help with anxiety and depression and improve sleep to a certain extent, though more research is needed.
And, other than being great for our health, cauliflower is also much-loved by veggies and vegans for its multiple uses – think bang bang cauliflower, buffalo cauliflower wings, baked cauliflower nuggets and so on.
Or, for a more traditional staple, Svanfeldt suggests, "Roast the cauliflower in the oven with some nice spices like curry and chilli, add it to a delicious stew."
While you might not necessarily think to reach for a handful of chestnuts, it's the best time to start. In season through both autumn and winter, roasting them will help to warm you up as much as it will benefit your body.
Like cauliflower, they're also packed with magnesium, as well as iron (important for our blood health) and fibre. "They're great to roast with sprinkled sea salt," recommends Svanfeldt.
They might not seem like a superfood, but dates have a worthy place on the list. They're high in magnesium, iron and zinc (important for our immune system, and enzymes) – and fibre of course.
Svanfeldt says they're perfect together with oats, as small treats, or mixed with your favourite flavours like chocolate, sea salt or freshly ground cardamom.
Again, mushrooms are thought to be the newest superfood, or the superfood of the future, with more crediting them for their nutritional value. They've even been named as ingredient of the year by the New York Times.
But the type you're eating might make a difference. "Wild mushrooms have various nutritional content, some (like chanterelles) are high in vitamin D, important for our immune system and bone health, as well as fibre," says Svanfeldt.
According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, for example, estimates show fresh wild mushrooms like chanterelles and morels can contain up to1200 IU of vitamin D per 3.5-ounce serving, but mushrooms grown in darkened conditions like white button, shiitake, and oyster contain less than 40 IU.
Svanfeldt adds, "Mushrooms are perfect in a risotto, a creamy pasta dish or as a toast topping." We agree.
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