Nutrition with Jane McClenaghan: Get into the swing of the changing seasons

A forage in the hedgerows for a handful of blackberries could give you a super hit of nutrients – not bad for free food
Jane McClenaghan

SEPTEMBER feels like a fresh start. A time to reflect and get ourselves back on track after the relaxed months of summer.

Maybe it's because kids are back to school and we are back in the routine of real life, or maybe it's the change of season that gets us motivated to take action to clear out the fridge, clean down the cupboards and start changing what we eat.

Autumn harvest

Although we can hope for an Indian summer, September 1 officially marks the start of autumn according the Met Office. Autumn is a time to stock up on nutritious food that will nourish us and support our immune systems and help to keep us healthy throughout the colder months of winter.

Eating with the seasons helps keep us in tune with nature. Our grandparents' generation would be reaping the harvest and busy making jam, chutneys and preserves to see them through the winter.

Sometimes the foods that are hailed as ‘superfoods' are foods we have never heard of, or that have travelled a mighty few food miles to get to our plates. Here in Ireland we have an abundance of nutritious seasonal food at this time of the year. Here are some of my favourites:

Apples: Local apples taste so much better than the mass-produced varieties we find throughout the year, don't they? Research shows that an apple a day really could help keep the doctor away. Linked with weight loss, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, balanced cholesterol and supporting brain health and packed with antioxidant bioflavonoids and fibre, apples also appear to have prebiotic effects thanks to their high pectin content. A local superfood.

:: Beetroot: This earthy root vegetable is a source of iron, folate, magnesium, antioxidants and nitrate. Recently beetroot has gained popularity thanks to its potential to reduce blood pressure, improve exercise recovery and muscle strength. Beetroot is a source of dietary nitrate which gets turned into nitric oxide in our body to help enhance blood flow and balance blood pressure. The amount required to optimise sports performance is 400mg of natural nitrate, found in a small glass of beetroot juice.

:: Brassicas: Cabbage belongs to the group known as brassica, or cruciferous vegetables, that are are some of the most nutritious foods on Earth. This group includes kale, broccoli, cauliflower, watercress, Brussels sprouts, rocket and turnip. These apparently ordinary, everyday vegetables are in fact some of the most pungent and powerful ingredients in our veg box. Packed with sulphur-based glucosinolates like isothiocyanates and indole-3-carbinol that give these veg their distinctive smell, taste and health-promoting benefits.

:: Plums: It's the best time of year to eat plums. A low glycemic index fruit that won't spike your blood sugar levels, plums are a great source of antioxidants too, especially the jewel-coloured red plums.

:: Blackberries: A forage in the hedgerows for a handful of blackberries could give you a super hit of nutrients like vitamin C and antioxidants (including lutein to help support eye health). Not bad for food for free!

:: Onions: The humble onion is loaded with essential nutrients and important phytochemicals with wide-ranging health benefits. Foods for the onion family (garlic, onion, leeks, scallions, etc.) contain sulphur phytochemicals that convert to allicin when cut or crushed. Allicin has been associated with anti-cancer and insulin-balancing properties. Another ingredient, an antioxidant called quercetin, has also been linked to disease prevention.

Recipe of the week


(serves 2-4)

2 tablespoonfuls sunflower and/or pumpkin seeds

1 or 2 raw beetroot, peeled and grated

1 carrot, peeled and grated

1 small red onion, finely sliced

Generous handful flat leaf parsley, chopped

1-2 tblsp apple cider vinegar 1-2 tblsp olive oil

Sea salt and black pepper


Place the seeds in a dry frying pan and toast gently over a low heat for a few minutes until golden. Combine in a bowl with the other ingredients and mix well. Season to taste.

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