Fall is not only the perfect time to sip on Pumpkin Spice Lattes and binge-watch Hallmark movies, but also for changing up our diets. As the chill weather continues to rise with each passing day, so do our comfort food cravings. Think warm soups, hot beverages and hearty casseroles – yum!
As it turns out, there’s actually a scientific reason behind this. “We eat more during these months due to colder weather and the act of eating warming our bodies,” says Lisa Richards, nutritionist and creator of The Candida Diet. "There is a process within the metabolism known as the thermogenic effect of food. This refers to the fact that the process of metabolism will increase our body's internal temperature as it works to metabolize our food."
While comfort food is an important component of fall, it’s easy to get carried away. Thankfully, with these 6 dietitian-backed diet tweaks, it’s possible to experience comfort and eat it, too.
1. Say Yes to More Root Veggies
Dietitians are seriously rooting for root veggies this fall. Popular kinds include sweet potatoes, radishes, garlic, beets, carrots, fennels, onions and leeks. According to Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC at Crystal Karges Nutrition, "all are great sources of fiber, antioxidants and naturally occurring polyphenols (these are the micronutrients we get through plant-based foods)."
By regularly adding these foods to your diet, you’ll be able to reap the health benefits. “This includes regularity, improved gut health and decreased risk of inflammation in the body**, which is associated with heart disease and type 2 diabetes,” shares Karges.
Just be sure to keep these foods as whole as possible, explains Amanda Kozimor-Perrin, MS, RDN. And don't be afraid of starches, either.
"People are scared of the starch component to some of these foods, specifically potatoes," says Kozimor-Perrin. "If you cook potatoes, then allow them to cool completely and use them cold, the starch turns from being easily absorbed to something called a resistant starch. Then, your body can't break it down, and it acts like a prebiotic (and your good bacteria can chow down on it)."
Cold potatoes may not sound super appetizing, but they can be delicious when added in salads, soups or casseroles.
2. Make These Swaps to Avoid a Holiday Food Hangover
While summer eats involve a lot of BBQs and sangria, the fall and winter months are a time of indulgence – especially when it comes to holidays. (Hey, Joey from Friends had turkey pants for a reason).
This year, instead of another a carb- and calorie-loaded holiday dinner, why not set your own (healthier) traditions? "Integrating a few simple changes or switches in our meals and recipes can boost the nutrient content of our favorites without losing the appeal of those foods," explains Richards.
Simple tweaks you can make include choosing low-sugar sweets or opting for a fruit-based dessert. "This will help satisfy your sweet tooth without overdoing it on the calories," she says.
Instead of using refined white rice, why not replace it with quinoa or cauliflower rice? "This is an easy switch to replace empty calories from a dish that is typically a filler anyways," adds Richards. The same goes with exchanging sugar-loaded yams and sweet potato casserole with fresh-baked sweet potatoes instead.
As for appetizers, Richards says to consider switching full-fat dips for yogurt-based dips. You could also trade the margarine for avocado oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter or coconut oil, shares Kozimor-Perrin.
3. Boost Your Mood
"Nutrition can play an important role in supporting overall mood and in decreasing risk of mood disorders, including seasonal affective disorder (SAD)," says Karges. SAD can cause symptoms such as a depressive feelings, low energy and changes in appetite.
"Nutrients that can help improve brain function and mood, especially during the winter months with less exposure to sunlight, include vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, B-vitamins, and minerals, such as selenium, zinc and iron," she adds. (Read why iron is important.)
For this, Karges says to consume more nutrient-dense foods. This includes eggs, lean proteins and seafood (great for brain health!) fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts and seeds.
You should also be eating smaller but frequent meals and never go too long without eating. Following these guidelines will "help stabilize blood sugar levels and make a big difference in your energy and mood function," says Karges.
4. Spice Things Up
Pumpkin spice might get all the attention come fall, but it’s time to change that by changing up how you use your spices.
"Fall spices not only naturally boost the flavors of all your favorite fall dishes but offer an array of health benefits as well, including antioxidants that can provide a boost to your immunity**," says Karges. "Some of the best spices to include during the fall include cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, nutmeg, allspice and cloves." Read more on the benefits of ginger root.
If you plan to use tons of turmeric this fall, great! "It's a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to be beneficial for our brain, immunity, and overall health," she says.
You can even use it to make a turmeric latte. When you do, though, Kozimor-Perrin says to add in black pepper: "The pepper activates the compound in turmeric to make it more bioavailable and work more efficiently within our bodies."
She says that cinnamon – a classic fall spice – is another one you should never skimp on. "It has been shown to be beneficial in lowering blood sugar, acts as an antioxidant and is heart-healthy."
5. Load Up on Nutrients
"The fall season typically corresponds with the flu season, which means consuming more immune-boosting nutrients like vitamin C and antioxidants could help to prevent contracting illness," explains Richards.
Eating fruits and vegetables that are yellow, orange and red in color is a great place to start, explains Karges. Herbs and spices go a long way in boosting your immune system, too, so be generous when adding oregano, ginger, garlic and turmeric.
Focusing on gut health through probiotics and prebiotics is another way to prevent sickness, explains Kozimor-Perrin. "Prebiotics are essential for your good bacteria to grow, and most fruits and vegetables contain these. Eat them in conjunction with the probiotic foods for happy healthy gut results**."
She says that "this includes coconut yogurt if you don't do dairy, tempeh, kefir, kimchi and the occasional kombucha."
6. Make Your Comfort Foods Healthier
Start by "adding as many vegetables as you can to soups and casseroles. Having a salad or vegetables at every meal is a super easy addition," says Kozimor-Perrin, adding that "cruciferous vegetables shine during the fall and winter season." Including broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kale, these foods are packed with fiber and phytochemicals.