The key nutrient that boosts pumpkins to the top of the orange super-food list is its combination of carotenoids, says Carol Cottrill, a nutritionist with offices in New York and Winter Park, Florida. Carotenoids are fat-soluble nutrients that produce the deep orange, yellow or red colors in fruits and vegetables.
“Foods rich in carotenoids, like pumpkins, carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes and orange bell peppers, have been shown to decrease the risk of various cancers, including lung, colon, bladder, cervical, breast and skin. Carotenoid consumption also protects against the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts,” Cottrill added.
Gregg Schneider, a nutritionally oriented dentist based in New Jersey, agrees. “These plant-based nutrients have been purported to reduce one’s risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and more. They even possess anti-aging and anti-oxidant activity. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans are deficient in these health-preserving nutrients,” Schneider said.
Beta-carotene is the most studied carotenoid; this group also includes alpha-carotene. These carotenoids are converted into vitamin A — a nutrient that helps maintain healthy eyes.
Orange citrus fruits are not rich in carotenoids; however, they are a great source of vitamin C and folate, a B vitamin.
An orange is, well, obvious. But these other nutrient-rich, orange-colored foods all pack a nutritional punch. Consider adding more of the following to your diet, whether you work them into a meal or keep them handy for a snack:
So what health benefits do these nutrients bestow? Healthy eating expert and cookbook author Katie Newell of HealthNutFoodie.com is an advocate of orange eating.
Newell points to how “butternut squash supports a healthy reproductive system, that eating carrots boosts your immune system and how pumpkin is key for anti-aging. Also, how the beta carotene that gives orange veggies its hue is a natural way to reduce acute and chronic inflammation, as well as reduce naturally occurring cancer cells throughout the body.”
Newell says she has had personal experience with reaping the health benefits of orange foods. Since she was 4 years old, she has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, and as an adult, she fought a long battle with infertility.
“I regularly include orange veggies in my diet to fight inflammation and keep my reproductive system ready to roll. After embracing the winter squash and other orange-hued produce, I’ve drastically reduced the amount of prescribed drugs I need to take. I’ve also triumphed over infertility twice (and counting) after being told I had almost no hope,” she said.
Orange is the go-to veggie for digestive issues, says holistic nutritionist Sally Kravich and author of “Vibrant Living.”
“For those who have severe digestive issues, I have clients make my butternut squash soup recipe or a ‘pasta’ with spaghetti squash,” she said. “Papaya is not only soothing for the belly, it [also] contains digestive enzymes that will make the rest of your food go down a whole lot easier.”
ORANGE AND YOUR DIET
Adding orange fruits and veggies to your diet is easy. The produce section of the grocery is filled with orange options year-round.
“Now is the time to fill one’s diet with sweet potatoes, mangoes, oranges, carrots, pumpkins and reap the benefits,” Schneider said.
Orange foods are abundant in the fall. Cottrill is a fan of pumpkin because it is affordable and easy to add to recipes.
“Pumpkin — which by the way is not a vegetable, but a fruit, and part of the gourd family — is not just for Halloween. It is one of the most nutritionally valuable foods year-round. It’s inexpensive and convenient in its canned form. High in fiber and low in calories, pumpkin is simple to incorporate into recipes, like breakfast muffins,” Cottrill said.
Cottrill adds that you can get your daily dose of orange foods by adding little bits to meals and snacks. She suggests adding a few slices of orange bell pepper to a sandwich or baby carrots or apricots to a salad.
“And believe it or not, a great carotenoid boost comes in a Haagen-Dazs container; choose the mango sorbet for a delicious dessert with health benefits.”