Fall's fabulous bounty
A nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center regularly provides a guest post. This week, Debra Schulze weighs in on fall fruits and vegetables.

The chill of fall is in the air along with the bright red, orange and yellow colors of the leaves. Fall offers many fruits and vegetables that are delicious and packed with nutritional benefits. This is the best time of year to experience the red pomegranates, the orange winter squash, the yellow peppers along with many other members of the season's bounty. Let's look at the many ways to achieve your five or more servings a day while enjoying some of these seasonal foods.

•Pumpkin and butternut squash are incredibly rich sources of antioxidants such as Vitamins A, C, E and B-complex and minerals such as calcium, copper, potassium and phosphorus. They are mildly sweet with a great nutty flavor. Both are very versatile and can be served in sweet or savory dishes such and soups, casseroles, pies, breads, muffins and more. They can be served hot or cold, and baked, stuffed, stewed or fried. Don't forget about the pumpkin seeds (Pepitas). They can be roasted for a healthy snack.

•Apples come in various shapes and sizes and while low in calories, they are rich in dietary fiber and abundant in phytonutrients and antioxidants, and a good source of B-complex vitamins. Heat a cored apple in the microwave for a few minutes with a sprinkle of cinnamon for a warm and delicious dessert.

•Cranberries, typically harvested in the fall months, offer many health benefits. These little berries contain high amounts of phytochemicals and antioxidants such as Vitamins C and A. Their health benefits are highest when fresh, some is lost once processed. They can be used fresh or dried in salads, sorbets, muffins, pie-fillings, breads and ice cream. With the holidays coming up, we typically see them as sauces, jams or jellies.

•Pomegranates are considered by some as a "super fruit" due to their many health benefits. This fruit is a rich source of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, a good source of Vitamin C, vital B-complex groups such as folate, pyridoxine, vitamin K, and minerals like calcium, copper, potassium and manganese. It can be enjoyed fresh or as a juice.

•Pears, available in many varieties, shapes and sizes, are also low in calories with good dietary fiber and a moderate source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals necessary for optimal health. Don't forget to try Asian Pears for a sweet and crispy treat.

•Beets, known for their rich red color, are a great source of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Raw beets are an excellent source of folate, however it decreases once this tuber is cooked. The top greens are also an excellent source of vitamin C. Beets are great hot or cold and can be roasted or boiled for a variety of serving methods. Once roasted, they have a wonderful, slightly sweet flavor and mix well with a roasted veggie medley.

•Eggplant is a versatile fall favorite that is a good source of fiber, folate, potassium, manganese, vitamins, C, K, and B complex. This vegetable can be used in casseroles, dips or dishes such as Eggplant Parmesan or ratatouille.

• Do not forget leafy green vegetables that are grown through fall. Collard greens, spinach, kale and Swiss chard are rich sources of antioxidants such as Vitamins C, A, K and B-complex. They also contain copper, calcium, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorus. There are many ways to serve these healthful beauties such as raw in salads or cooked as side dish. Try kale chips instead of potato chips for a low calorie and healthy snack. Lightly spray clean leaves with olive oil and bake in the oven at 275 degrees for about 20 minutes until crispy. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and enjoy.

This is only an example of the many fall fruits and vegetables offered fresh this time of year. Embrace the health benefits and try one of these fabulous bounties of fall.

For more suggestions and information about how to incorporate 5 or more servings per day of these fruits and vegetables, refer to USDA website (www.usda.gov) and search topics on Food and Nutrition for 5 A Day-The Color Way.