Food and the Flavours of Fall

Food and the Flavours of Fall | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Fall has arrived, and so have the abundance of pumpkin flavoured beverages and baked goods. While pumpkin alone has many great health benefits, such as being high in the Vitamin A-converting antioxidant known as beta-carotene (which promotes things like healthy skin, improves eyesight, and boosts the immune system), many of the fall focused items you’ll find in bakeries and coffee shops are loaded with sugar, carbohydrates, and are all around bad for your health.

The most popular fall menu item would have to be the pumpkin spice latte. It’s available at most, if not all major coffee chains, and has more or less become the official-unofficial drink of the season. That being said, a medium sized pumpkin spice latte can contain upwards of 14 grams of fat and 8 grams of saturated fat, as well as contains a colossal 380 calories. Add in the whipped cream and 2% milk, and those numbers only increase.

As a family physician, Dr. Ghahary always recommends avoiding overindulging in these kinds of sugary, sweet treats. Too much of them can not only lead to dental-related problems such as tooth decay (cavities), but regular consumption of these fall favourites (and sugary, fatty foods in general) can also cause weight gain, which puts you at risk of things like heart disease and diabetes – both of which can be fatal. However, if it’s the pumpkin flavour you’re after, then there are definitely some healthier alternatives on the market and different ways in which you can still get that pumpkin fix.

First, instead of going to your favourite coffee shop for that pumpkin spice latte, try making it at home. You’ll not only save a few dollars (pumpkin spice lattes from coffee shops can cost close to $6!), but you’ll also be able to control what goes in your drink. While most coffee chains have pre-made pumpkin flavoured syrups they use in their beverages, it’s much healthier for you if you make your drink with real pumpkin puree. Instead of using cream or 2% milk in your drink, opt for low-fat milk or unsweetened almond or soy milk, as well as a small amount of pure vanilla extract. Also, be sure to hold off on the whipped cream. While your pumpkin spice latte won’t necessarily seem as creamy nor will it taste exactly the same as the ones you’re used to ordering out, it will still have that rich flavour; and, perhaps the biggest difference of all, is that it will also be much healthier for you. If you do insist in ordering your pumpkin spice latte from a coffee shop, try removing the milk all together and ask to have it made like an Americano (with water and espresso), as well as half-sweet (less syrup.) While this isn’t ideal, it’s still a better alternative.

If you’re looking to incorporate flavours of fall into your meals, oatmeal is one of the best ways to do this. Not only is it a good food to consume on a cool fall day, but it also has many health benefits. It contains soluble fibre, which helps to lower high cholesterol and keep blood glucose levels stable; as well as insoluble fibre, which helps improve intestinal health and prevent things like constipation. The total fibre count in one cup of oatmeal is approximately 4 grams. Oatmeal also leaves you feeling fuller longer, which helps you control weight. For added health benefits, add in a handful of unsalted pumpkin seeds. They’re a great source of things like zinc, magnesium and fatty acids which help keep the heart healthy. Adding in a dash of cinnamon also carries some of the same heart-healthy benefits and gives it an even bolder flavour.

Pumpkin soup is another fall favourite and is quite simple to make on your own. You can also buy it in-store but be sure to read the ingredients to make sure you’re not sabotaging your health in the process. To make it more filling, try mixing it with a small amount of cooked quinoa, or have a healthy salad on the side.