Fantastic Fall Foods and Fun: A Guide to Healthfully Enjoying Fall

Fall is a welcome season, full of bounty and beauty.  The heat of summer gives way to calmer days and crisper evenings.  We trade our shorts and swimsuits for jackets and jeans and enjoy campfires, hayrides, and holiday celebrations.    

Fall is the perfect opportunity to embrace new foods.  Not only are many in-season options tasty, but they are also nutritionally dense and diabetes friendly.

Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes are a staple at many Thanksgiving dinners.  They offer several significant health benefits, according to Michelle Preston, a registered dietitian and St. Louis Christian Northeast Hospital’s Diabetes Institute Program Manager.    She says, “Sweet potatoes are a very high source of beta carotene, which your body converts to Vitamin A to keep skin and eyes healthy and protect against infections. They also contain a large amount of potassium, especially if the skin is left on, which may help maintain a healthy blood pressure. All potatoes have some Vitamin C and trace minerals, and they are good sources of fiber, which helps clean out our intestinal tracts and decreases risks for heart disease and some cancers.”   

Potatoes: Many people believe that regular potatoes are a diet no-no, probably due to trendy low-or-no carbohydrate diets.  However, Preston states, “While white potatoes contain no Vitamin A, the rest of their nutrient profile and health benefits are very similar to that of sweet potatoes.  Dig in!”    With sweet or regular potatoes, the goal is to carefully select add-ons.   “Loaded” baked potatoes typically come with butter, sour cream, bacon, and cheese, all of which are high in fat and calories.   Better options include light sour cream, low fat cheese, less butter, or trans-fat free margarine.  

Beans: Fall is often a chili-galore season.   Though beans can be described as high in carbohydrates, their fiber count helps slow the digestion of the carbohydrates, making beans a superstar food for people with diabetes.  Preston comments,, “They are very high in fiber, potassium, and folate, which help form red blood cells, function in protein metabolism, and may play a role in reducing cardiovascular disease.”   Rinsing canned beans before using them reduces the sodium.   Some nutritional experts state that the darker the bean is in color, the healthier it is, so aiming for black or dark red kidney beans can be beneficial. 

Apples: One of my family’s favorite fall activities is going to the apple farm and then coming home to make an apple crisp with our produce.   Preston advises, “Apples contain a phytochemical, quercetin, that research suggests may help to prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Pectin, the type of fiber in the flesh of the apple, can also help decrease LDL levels, the bad cholesterol.  Leave the skin on for more fiber and flavonoids!”   When paired with a source of protein (like natural peanut butter or a slice of low fat cheese), apples make a great snack for a person with diabetes. 

Squash: There are so many varieties of squash to choose from, including some of Preston’s favorites: acorn, hubbard, spaghetti, butternut, and delicate.  Preston shares, “Squash is a great source of vitamin A and fiber, and even though some are starchy, they’re lower in calories than you might think. One cup of baked squash has only 80 calories!”   Try slicing, sautéing, and serving your favorite squash over whole wheat or low-carbohydrate pasta and sprinkling some low fat cheese on top.

Pumpkin: Pumpkin is by far my favorite fall flavor!  I put pureed pumpkin in my oatmeal and, of course, enjoy pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.   Preston states, “Pumpkins are powerhouses for your eyes!  They are not only one of the highest sources of Vitamin A, which helps with immune function and healthy vision, but they also have lutein and zeaxanthin, which scavenge free radicals in the lens of the eye and decrease the risk for cataracts and macular degeneration.”   You can buy pureed pumpkin in a can at the grocery store year-round.  Just check the label to make sure you are buying pure pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie filler, which contains sugar. 

Soups and stews: Soups and stews offer the perfect opportunity to load your meals with healthy ingredients.   The added water content from the broths and vegetables will hydrate you.  Preston notes, “Stews and soups make for easy, inexpensive, and healthy meals that enable you to get a variety of vegetables even if you are a picky eater.  Eating a variety of vegetables is essential to ensure that your body is getting the nutrients it needs. To make the soup or stew more complete, add a lean protein like cooked chicken breast, ground round, or edamame.”   

Hot drinks: One of my favorite fall foods is a mug of warm fruity tea.  Preston advises, “Teas like green or black tea are high in polyphenols or antioxidants and, if consumed on a regular basis, may help decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and dental caries.  Be careful to avoid over-using artificial sweeteners in beverages and foods, as there is an upper limit for safe consumption.  Also be aware of beverages already overloaded with sugar that will spike your blood glucose, like caramel lattes, cappuccinos, and hot chocolates.  Many places do offer a sugar-free syrup that can help cut down on carbohydrates and calories as long as you are also choosing non-fat milk.”

As people with diabetes know, successful diabetes management is not just about dietary choices, but also about exercise.

Fall boasts lots of fun opportunities to keep you fit:

Walking. Enjoy hiking a new trail or taking an evening stroll with a spouse or friend.  Take photographs along the way and enjoy observing the changing colors.

Raking. Raking leaves can be a fantastic cardio and strength-training workout.   If you’re feeling adventurous, invite neighborhood children or young relatives over to jump into your leaf piles.  

Picking. Picking apples or choosing a pumpkin can be an enjoyable and gentle workout.   Tread through long fields searching for the perfect pumpkin, or walk through orchards selecting the best apples.  

Building. Whether you’re putting together a campfire for friends or finally constructing a shed in the backyard, find some way to change up your exercise routine while relishing the beautiful fall weather.   Better yet, ask a friend or relative to pitch in and converse with you while you work together.

Cleaning. Clean out the garage, the basement, and closets, and then host a yard sale (while working up a sweat) or donate the items to a charity.   Prepare your home for holiday celebrations by de-cluttering and simplifying your living spaces.   

May your fall season be full of good times and great health!

Rachel Garlinghouse is a part-time English teacher and part-time writer.  She’s had type 1 diabetes for four years and blogs about her experiences at

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