This season, add zest and color to meals with nutritious options that are seasonally available. TOPS Club, Inc.® (Take Off Pounds Sensibly®), the nonprofit weight-loss support organization, advises that variety is indeed the spice of life and has the power to keep healthy eaters on track. Consider the following fruits and vegetables to add dazzle to dinners in a healthy way, making it easier to avoid high-fat treats.
• Squash is available in several varieties, including butternut, sweet dumpling, acorn, spaghetti, banana, Hubbard, and buttercup. Surprisingly, the rich taste of winter squash contains only 80 calories per cup. Winter squash is a source of complex carbohydrates and fiber, and also contains potassium, niacin, iron, vitamin C, folate, and cancer-fighting beta-carotene. It can be featured in an array of recipes, baked, boiled, microwaved, sautéed, or steamed. Squash halves can be baked as a boat containing fillings such as vegetable and bread stuffing or fruit mixtures. Squash can also be added to enhance pasta and rice dishes, adding extra fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
• Kale, a member of the cabbage family, can be used as a stand-in for spinach or collard greens in many dishes. Bursting with nutrients, kale contains potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and beta-carotene. Kale also has two grams of filling protein in a serving. Look for dark-colored bunches of kale and avoid brown or yellow leaves. It makes a delicious addition to smoothies, soups, stir-fries, casseroles, or even simply sautéed as a side dish.
• Clementines are a refreshingly sweet variety of mandarin orange often referred to as "seedless tangerines." They are much easier to peel than other citrus fruits and are a good source of vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, and fiber. When picking out clementines, choose those that are slightly soft, blemish-free, strongly fragranced, and heavy for their size, meaning they're full of juice. You can simply peel the skin and eat the fruit's segments or add them to salads. To enjoy the flavor all year long, make preserves or cook sauces that can be frozen.
• Sweet potatoes, often mistakenly advertised as yams, can be substituted for regular potatoes, not only to add variety to menus, but to provide a healthier option. Sweet potatoes have almost twice the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin A, 42 percent of the RDA for vitamin C, and four times the RDA for beta-carotene compared to white potatoes. When eaten with the skin on, sweet potatoes have more fiber than oatmeal and carry a reasonable 130 to 160 calories. And sweet potatoes digest slowly, causing a gradual rise in blood sugar so people feel satisfied longer.
When preparing sweet potatoes, replace the butter, marshmallow, and brown sugar with healthier choices such as nutmeg and walnuts or pineapple tidbits, for a different flavor. Slice a sweet potato into thin wedges, bake, and dust with cinnamon for French fries that are not deep-fried.
• Pomegranates are known for their bright, tart taste and pinkish-red pulp and juice. They contain arils, which are full of nutritious juice surrounding a small white crunchy seed. You can eat the entire aril, containing fiber-rich seeds, or spit them out. One glass of pomegranate juice contains the same disease-fighting polyphenol content as four glasses of cranberry juice or 10 cups of green tea. They are an ideal source of potassium, vitamin C, and niacin. When buying a pomegranate, look for round, plump, and heavy fruit. The arils are tasty eaten raw or sprinkled over salads, oatmeal, yogurt, and fruit salad.
Pomegranates can be messy to seed. To make seeding a clean job, score the rind of the fruit in quarters and soak in a dish of water for 15 minutes. Peel the rind and seed under water. Drain seeds, water, and pomegranate membrane in a colander. Keep seeds refrigerated in an airtight container. The juice is flavorful as a fresh drink on its own or as an addition to glazes, marinades, and dressings.