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© Aleksandar Mijatovic - Fotolia.com

I've been going to grocery stores for years, decades in fact, and there still is one department that is hit-or-miss at times. That's the produce section.

I never really know if my cantaloupe will be sweet or if my apples will be mushy and have that sandy texture. One thing I do know is that if you buy the things that are in season you will have a better shot at that perfect blueberry taste you're anticipating when you stick those blueberries in some yogurt.

As we head into fall from September to November, the harvest brings a variety of produce that not only tastes good in pies but also right off the vine, from squash and sweet potatoes to grapes and pears. So lets examine what's in for fall and what benefits we can derive from them.

Apples are a natural and with 7,500 varieties there is a good chance you will find a crisp sweet or even tart one that will wet your palate. Fuji apples have the highest concentration of antioxidants, phenolics, and flavonoids, while Cortland and Empire apples have the lowest.

Cranberries are at their best between October to November. That makes sense and explains why they always show up at Thanksgiving. Only 5% actually make it to the produce section (the other 95% are dried, canned, or turned into juice). Cranberries have been known to help with urinary tract infections.Eating them fresh can prevent oral diseases and slow the growth of breast, colon, prostate, and lung cancers.

No doubt about this one -- pumpkins are a huge hit and there is everything from pumpkin coffee to pumpkin soap. (Disclaimer: even though the soap smells great- don't eat it.)

Pumpkin offers a wealth of alpha- and beta-carotene, which can be converted into retinol to promote healthy vision and cell growth. Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that may help those with heart disease, high blood pressure and so forth.

I'm not sure if it's the smell when they are cooked but Brussel sprouts were never a big winner with my kids until they got older. Cabbage didn't pull them in either. I love both of them and they are part of the fall veggie line-up. Packed with vitamins A and C, cabbage and its mini-me, Brussels sprouts, boast a high concentration of cancer-fighting agents.

You can't beat beets.They are in their prime in the fall. When selecting these reddish purple gems, look for firm, smooth bulbs and bright, crisp greens. Be sure to trim these right away though, since they can leech the beets’ nutrients including betaine, a compound that may help prevent heart and liver disease, and nitrate, which may increase blood flow to the brain and potentially reduce risk of dementia.

Pomegranates have hit the health circles lately. You have probably seen the juice bottles of POM Juice. While much of the research has been inconclusive, some studies suggest the fruit’s antioxidants may reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications like heart attacks.

Don't turn your nose up at turnips and rutabagas. Just because they aren't the prettiest vegetable in the produce department doesn't mean you should push them aside. Research suggests turnips and rutabagas may help reduce the risk of prostate and lung cancers. What’s more, turnip greens are a good source of calcium, and rutabagas are packed with fiber.

Sweet potatoes come into their own in the fall, it's peak season for them. Like squash, sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, which can prevent vitamin A deficiencies, promote healthy eyesight and generate retinol production [17]. Sweet potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C, and when baked in their skin can pack nearly 5 grams of fiber.

Pair up with pears. These sweet fruits fall into two major categories: European and Asian. In the U.S., the European varieties, Bosc and Bartlett, are most common, and grow on the west coast during fall. Lots of fiber in a pear which helps lower “bad” cholesterol, or LDL.

By all means you don't want to squish out squash as a fall favorite. It's really the headliner for the fall season. Summer squash are still available locally until October in some parts of the country, and winter squash takes over as summer squash heads out. This branch of the family offers acorn squash, which is rich in potassium and prevents muscles from feeling fatigued and weak, among others.

Seasonal fruit will always be sweeter in season and it will be less expensive because of the the abundance of the crop .


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