When the nights are drawing in, it’s prime time to start enjoying autumn vegetables, including butternut squash which is at it’s best in October.
Varying in shape from cylindrical to half dumbbell, the smooth exterior of this funny-looking vegetable hides deliciously sweet and buttery orange flesh. It’s also a well-balanced food source, rich in complex carbohydrates and low in saturated fat. It’s a very good source of beta-carotene, the vegetable form on vitamin A – important during pregnancy, as high levels of the animal form can be dangerous – as well as vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, calcium and potassium.
Don’t let this odd shape and hard rind put you off cooking it – once you’ve managed to scoop out the seeds and any fibrous-strings, and removed the skin, it’s delicious when added to stews, pasta dishes, risottos, soups and curries. Alternatively, when roasted and / or mashed, squash makes a tasty addition to a traditional Sunday roast.
Peas and beans
Delicious and in season, peas and beans are highly nutritious foods not to be missed out on at this time of year. Peas are a great source of iron, an essential mineral vital for transporting oxygen around the body. They’re also high in Vitamin C, the immune system-booster, which also helps your body to absorb iron and use it effectively. And tasty seasonal broad beans and runner beans make good protein sources, as well as being high in vitamins and minerals – such as crucial folic acid, which helps to prevent birth defects. Fresh peas and beans take just a few minutes to boil or steam and serve as an accompaniment to fish or meat, and they’re also very versatile – think warm runner bean salad with bacon, leek and pea salad, broad bean and mint soup or pea fritters. Use your imagination and go green!
There’s nothing like berries for providing the taste of summer, and strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are at their best in July. A recent study found a cupful of berries provides a day’s worth of antioxidants: these keep our cells clean by eliminating molecules that can result in cancer and other illnesses. Buy locally sourced berries for the best price and flavour, from vitamin C-rich raspberries to boost your immune system, to blueberries to keep bladder infections at bay. Try a bowl of berries with nuts and fromage frais, add strawberries to your morning cereal, or blend frozen berries with a banana and low-fat milk for a yummy smoothie.
In season in September and October, don’t miss out on fresh figs because you don’t know what to do with them – as well as looking good and tasting great, they provide many of the nutrients you’ll need for a healthy nine months. For a start, they’re the most fibrous fruit or vegetable that you can buy, making them great for keeping the common problem of pregnancy constipation at bay. They are also rich in minerals, the pregnancy essentials calcium and iron, and contain more potassium than bananas – for regulating your body’s water balance, maintaining normal blood pressure and keeping the intestines moving. Choose figs that are richly coloured, plump and soft, but with unbroken skins (a sour smell indicates they’re past their best). Wipe them with a damp kitchen towel before eating, and try them drizzled with honey and cinnamon, then roasted and served with a dollop of crème frâiche. They’re also a great on an after-dinner cheese board – just make sure the cheeses are safe for pregnancy.
Asparagus is available from different parts of the world all year round, but British asparagus is well worth waiting for – and now is exactly the right time to try it (the season lasts until mid-June)! It’s packed with vitamins C and E, and an 80g serving provides 60 per cent of your recommended daily intake of the pregnancy essential folic acid (for preventing spina bifida in your developing baby).
To ensure the best taste go for firm but tender stalks with a good green colour and closed tips. It’s easy to cook, too – just rinse, snap off the woody bottom ends and steam for a few minutes until tender. Try it with a little butter as an accompaniment to fish or meat, or add it to salads or pasta, with a shaving of Parmesan cheese.
You’ll know that you have to take folic acid while pregnant to help prevent birth defects such as spina bifida, but did you know that mushrooms are brimming with folate, the natural form of folic acid? They’re full of potassium, too, to keep your blood pressure balanced. And an 80g serving (14 button mushrooms, four closed cup mushrooms or one large flat mushroom) counts towards your five-a-day veggie target.
Parsnips are one of the tastiest root vegetables, and are at their best in mid-to-late winter as their flavour is increased by frost. They’re great for pregnancy, too, as they’re a good source of fibre and folate (the natural form of folic acid), as well as providing potassium (associated with a lowering in blood pressure) and vitamin C. Parsnips’ soft, fragrant, slightly sweet flesh makes great winter comfort food. Try cutting them into chunks and roasting for about 20 minutes before serving with your Sunday roast, or with a low-fat yoghurt dip flavoured with garlic as a healthy snack.
We’re sure you know that chocolate improves your mood, but there’s more good news: the antioxidants, called flavanols, in dark chocolate also lower blood pressure and improve the body’s ability to metabolise sugar, thus lowering the risk of diabetes. Don’t go wild, though, because chocolate still contains fat and calories – moderation is the key.
The orange flesh is high in antioxidants, with 4 tablespoons providing ¾ of your recommended daily allowance of beta-carotene (the form of vitamin A that’s safe during pregnancy). This veggie also has several other benefits for mums-to-be: its high potassium content is essential for the development of your baby’s muscle and nerve function, while pumpkin juice is said to add as a laxative – great if constipation’s a problem!
The vitamin C, vitamin E and lycopene contained in the pumpkins are good for your heart, while the flesh is also thought to help regulate your blood sugar levels, helping prevent tiredness. And lastly, if you’re trying for a baby give your bloke plenty of pumpkin seeds – they contain selenium, vital for male fertility.
Forget the limp and watery greens you were served at school – cabbage can be really delicious is cooked the right way. Broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are all members of the cabbage family, while more traditional varieties include Savoy, kale and Chinese cabbage.
Leafy greens are one of the best sources of folic acid so you should be adding plenty to your diet. Try serving steamed Savoy cabbage leaves with toasted caraway seeds and a little garlic butter. Or combine red cabbage, two chopped apples and one chopped onion with three tablespoons of water, one of white wine vinegar and one of sugar in a casserole dish. Braise in a low oven for an hour until soft.
Often given a bad press because they are high in fat, avocados in fact contain mainly mono-unsaturates – the ‘good’ fat that can help lower your cholesterol. They’re a great pregnancy superfood, as they’re high in folate (essential to help protect against birth defects), and have one of the highest concentrations of dietary fibre among common fruits – exactly what you need to keep your digestion moving and help prevent piles. On top of that, avocados are also high in potassium and vitamins C and E.
For a quick and easy guacamole dip, mash up one avocado with half a chopped red chilli, half a finely chopped onion, one clove of crushed garlic and the juice of half a lime. Enjoy this with tortilla chips or crudités for a healthy snack.
Cauliflower is perfect for your pregnancy diet. It’s rich in fibre, water, vitamin C, folic acid and potassium – a mineral that’s important for maintaining fluid balance in the body’s cells. Cauliflower also contains sulforaphane, an anti-cancer compound that’s released when it’s chopped or when you chew it.
There are tons of tasty ways to enjoy your cauliflower. You can stick to a traditional cauliflower cheese of you’re after a heart meal or you can mash it with a knob of butter and some ground black pepper as an alternative to potato or swede. You can even try juicing it with another sweeter vegetable, such as carrot. But if that sounds a bit adventurous, chop small chunks of raw, organic cauliflower and add them to carrot, pumpkin seeds and raisins for a filling nutritious salad.