Making the Most of Your Harvest with Cleansing Foods for Fall
As fall harvest season begins, many gardeners find themselves with bushels of tomatoes, baskets of cucumbers and armfuls of lettuce. So when your garden is overflowing with produce, how do you make the most of your harvest?
Gardeners know that the best way to experience fruit and vegetables at their prime is to grow them in their own backyards or in community gardens. Some of the most popular veggies grown in the United States include tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions, beans, lettuce, corn and carrots, while the most popular homegrown fruits include apples, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries.
Here are some tips to help you take advantage of your fresh produce:
- Harvest your food the same day you plan on using it. This ensures it will stay fresh and won't dry out or wilt.
- Do your picking in the morning when fruit and vegetables are most fresh.
- Once you've picked your produce, store in a cool place and don't wash until you're ready to use it.
How do you know when your produce is ready to be pulled from the ground or plucked from the plant or tree?
- Tomatoes are ready to pick when they're smooth, heavy, glossy and red or orange.
- When sweet peppers are between 3 and 4 inches wide and are firm, they're ready to pick. The longer you leave them on the vine; they'll turn red, yellow or orange and become sweeter.
- When your cucumbers are ready to come out of the garden, they'll be firm and the spikes will easily rub off.
- When lettuce leaves are young and tender they're ready for a tasty salad.
- Tasting apples is often the best way to know if they're ready to pick, but you can also grab one and lightly tug. If it easily comes off the branch, there's a good chance it would make a great snack.
This segue into cooler months is also a great opportunity to shift the way you eat. Turning your focus to cleansing seasonal foods can increase your energy, improve your digestion, and prepare your body for winter’s approach.
A cleanse can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, and it doesn’t require any fasting. You can just simplify your plate by incorporating more seasonal produce – like these 5 fall staples:
- Apples: This antioxidant-rich fruit helps reduce inflammation and is linked to heart and lung health. Pick up some crisp green apples for a healthy on-the-go snack, or chop up and simmer with cinnamon for a healthy treat.
- Onions: This round vegetable provides anti-inflammatory benefits and protects cells from oxidative stress. It can help lower the risk of colorectal, laryngeal, and ovarian cancers. Add raw onion to salads or cook chopped onion in soups, stews, and stir fried dishes.
- Sweet potatoes: Despite their sweet flavor, these tubers help balance blood sugar. They are also a good source of beta-carotene and vitamins B6, C, and D. Try them baked or in soups and stews.
- Winter Squash: These gourds are rich with fiber, which is good for digestion and heart health. They also contain cell-protective antioxidants, including beta-carotene and vitamin C. Bake or steam squash and season with digestive spices for a healthy main or side dish.
- Brussels sprouts: High in fiber and vitamin C, this cruciferous vegetable can help lower cholesterol levels, and contain phytonutrients associated with cancer prevention. You can roast or sauté sprouts for a delicious side dish.
One final note:
One of the biggest challenges for gardeners this time of the year is having too much produce at the same time. In many cases, it's simply too much to eat on your own. If you have more produce than you can eat, ferment, can or freeze, consider donating your extra produce to your local church, soup kitchen or food bank so that your neighbors in need can enjoy the benefits of your garden fresh produce. One in eight people is at risk for hunger and, with record numbers of people turning to food banks, most of which have low quality boxed and canned processed foods, it's more important than ever to contribute fresh, delicious and healthy produce.