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Healthy, Hearty, Fall Recipes

"When serotonin and dopamine drop, our body starts to seek them out. That’s why we crave comfort foods that tend to be heavy in sugars and fats."

It's that time of year when the weather is getting cooler and the days are getting shorter. It’s also the time of year when we see a bounty of colorful, beautiful fall produce, and when we start to crave hearty, fall comfort foods, which usually means more unhealthy fats, more salt, and more sugar. But it doesn’t have to be that way. On today's live show, Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD, shares her favorite healthy, fall recipes. Yes, comfort foods can be healthy — watch Dr. Nancy in her kitchen to learn how.

Video Highlights

  • 02:30: Why We Crave Comfort Foods
  • 06:10: Fun Fall Facts
  • 15:02: Healthy, Easy Fall Recipes
  • 17:15: Side Dishes
  • 20:06: Pumpkin Protein Smoothie
  • 24:21: Pumpkin Hummus
  • 29:38: Creamy Pumpkin Soup
  • 34:07: Sauteed Butternut Squash
  • 36:59: Pumpkin Pie Energy Balls
  • 41:22: Thai Yellow Curry with Butternut Squash
  • 48:10: Wrap-Up

Why We Crave Comfort Foods

Did you know that 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the digestive tract?Serotonin is the chemical that helps regulate your mood, helps yousleep, keeps yourmemory sharp, and also regulates your sex drive. It’s often referred to as the “happy” chemical because when it’s released at the right levels, it keeps you feeling happy! Stay tuned — in the next week or so, Dr. Nancy will be doing a series on serotonin and the science of happiness. You won’t want to miss that! 

Dopamine is another one that could be referred to as a “happy” chemical, and it’s also produced in thegut

That’s why we feel happy and satisfied when we eat good food. 

But serotonin and dopamine arealso released when weexercise or when we spend a lot of time in the sun — two things that tend to drop off when the weather starts to get cold. The body begins to crave that release of happy chemicals, and in the absence of sunlight and exercise, seeks it elsewhere. As a result, we crave delicious, oftentimes heavier and less healthy foods in the fall and winter. 

As the temperatures get cooler, try to layer on the warm clothes and spend some time out in the sunshine. Your food cravings will likely go down if you do. You can also look for healthy versions of your favorite comfort recipes — there are tons of healthy alternatives to popular dishes! We’ll share a few great fall recipes here, but before we do, let’s look at a few…

Fun Fall Facts

Fall doesn’t occur as a result of the earth moving further away from the sun — it’s actually caused by the earth’stilt, not our distance from the sun. When the northern hemisphere tilts towards the sun, we get warmer. When it tilts away, we get colder. Fall and spring are the times of transition, during which we are tilting away.

Until about 1500, autumn was just called “harvest.”  You’ve probably heard the term “Harvest Moon” or at least the Neil Young classic by the same name. The full moon closest to the autumn equinox is actually known as a harvest moon. Before electricity, the bright night of the harvest moon was essential for farmers harvesting their late-year crops in time for winter — hence the name “harvest”.

What’s the Deal with Pumpkin Spice?

Autumn is also the time of Pumpkin Spice! It’s everywhere you look — Pumpkin spice coffee, latte, hand soap, donuts, candy — there’s even a pumpkin spice bone broth and pumpkin spice seltzer. We really do go pumpkin spice crazy this time of year. But did you know that pumpkin spice actually has nothing to do with pumpkins. It’s a spice mixture used for pumpkin pies, and it just happens to go great with nearly everything. 

You can even make your own! It is made from 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 2 teaspoons of ground nutmeg, 1 ½ teaspoons ground allspice and 1 ½ teaspoons ground cloves. You can make it at home or buy it pre-mixed at the grocery store.

Why the Leaves Change Colors

Who doesn’t love the color of  changing leaves in fall? The Beautiful Fall colors are caused by the amount of sugar in leaves. The more red in the leaf, the more sugar that leaf is storing. That is why Maple trees are so vibrant. Evergreens, like pine trees,  don’t change because their leaves have a thick wax covering that protects the chlorophyll in the leaves or needles and keeps them green year-round.

Surprising Autumn Health Impacts

Good news for those born in September, October, or November — research shows that babies born in the fall are more likely to do better in school and are more likely to live to be 100 than those born at other times of the year! 

One theory suggests that exposure to seasonal infections (especially in summer) early in life can have a long-lasting effect on health and actually be detrimental to your long-term health.

Studies also showed that testosterone levels in both men and women spike higher in autumn than at any other time of year, several studies found. 

Daylight Savings

Fall is also the time of year daylight savings time ends, giving us an extra hour of sleep. According to a New England Journal of Medicine report, Americans’ rate of heart attacks has been known to fall on the Monday following the end of daylight savings time, while the rate of both heart attacks and car accidents tends to rise on the Monday following the start of daylight savings time in Spring. See, just like we’re always saying…your sleep is that important — just one more reason to love fall!

Vitamin D

We mentioned earlier that we tend to associate fall with comfort food. However, weight gain around this time of year may not be solely as a result of food.Fall is also the time of the year we transition to spending less time out in the sunlight, which means a decrease invitamin D levels. Researchers have found that lack of vitamin D reduces fat breakdown and triggers fat storage. So, the lack of sunlight could have more to do with fall weight gain than all the pumpkin spice lattes and cider donuts, or at least play a significant role. As you transition away from the beautiful summer rays, make sure you are taking  a goodplant-based Vitamin D daily. Plant-based D3 is so important because 99% of Vitamin D in stores is animal based, and it comes from really nasty stuff — the glands of sheep. You also need a formula that combines Vitamin D3 with Vitamin K2 for more efficient absorption. Smarter’sVitamin D is plant-based that includes Vitamin K2 in a softgel with in a coconut oil base. 

Easy, Healthy Fall Recipes

Pumpkin seems to get all the glory this time of year, but it’s not your only option for healthy harvest fruits and vegetables. We are going to use a number of delicious fruits and vegetables to make some healthy, but delicious fall comfort food!  Just remember, you really want to useorganic fruits and vegetables as often as you can – it’s really important to keep pesticides, insecticides, and other toxins far away from your kitchen and out of your body! 

Side Dishes

  • Hearty Fall Salad. For this salad, combine apple pieces, cubed pumpkin, and kale. Dress with tahini sauce, some fresh lemon, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cumin. Also drizzle some olive oil on top for a beautiful fall salad.
  • Brussels Sprouts. Cut brussels sprouts in half, sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with the balsamic vinegar, and roast in a small roasting pan at 450° for 20 minutes. Dress with beets, pumpkin, and olive oil for a colorful, antioxidant-loaded, anti-inflammatory side dish.
  • Fall Compote. Combine your favorite colorful fall vegetables — including carrots, pumpkin, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and butternut squash — steam for 5 minutes until it’s al dente, then saute in olive oil with a bit of salt. 

Pumpkin Protein Smoothie

If you’re strapped for time with all your fall activities but still want to stay away from comfort foods and fast food, this is a great option. 

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Hand blender, regular blender, or nutribullet
  • 1 cup almond milk, coconut milk (or any otherlactose-free milk)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 scoopprotein powder of your choice
  • Handful of hemp hearts (optional)
  • 2 heaping dollops of pumpkin puree
  • A dash of pumpkin pie spice
  • A dash of cinnamon
  • A dash of vanilla extract

Blend all ingredients. Voila! Beautiful pumpkin smoothie. Get your pumpkin fix as well as nutrients, proteins, and vitamins. Skip thesugary, expensive pumpkinlatte!

Pumpkin Hummus

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • ½ cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 can organic garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • ⅓ cup tahini sauce
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste (optional)
  • Allspice to taste (optional)

Using your trusty immersion blender, combine all ingredients until you have a nice, smooth hummus. Serve with almond and rice crackers for a delicious,fiber-rich autumn appetizer. Garnish with sesame seeds to make it look great. 

Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • A splash of coconut milk (or other milk alternative)
  • Cooked butternut squash cubes 
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Ginger
  • Pumpkin spice to taste
  • Cinnamon
  • Curry
  • Salt and pepper 

Again using your blender, combine all ingredients for a nice, creamy soup. Adjust recipe amounts according to the number of people you want to serve this healthy, nutrient-rich soup to.

Sauteed Butternut Squash

Saute spiralized butternut squash in a skillet with olive oil until al dente. Remove from heat, plate it, and add himalayan salt and pepper. To jazz things up, dress it with lemon, pesto, or your pumpkin hummus. Add whatever sounds good!

Pumpkin Pie Energy Balls

Craving something sweet but want to stay healthy? This is the answer! Your kids will love these too. Adjust amounts of the ingredients in your recipe according to your preference.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 cup oats
  • ½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • ½ cup unsweetened almond butter (heated)
  • ⅓ cup pumpkin puree
  • ¼ cup raisins (optional)
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds (ground for best digestion)
  • 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tbsp walnuts
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until fully combined. Separate into small pieces and roll into balls. You can roll in coconut flakes or coat in dark chocolate if you like.

Thai Yellow Curry with Butternut Squash

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Non-GMO tofu (or protein of choice) cut into cubes
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 cubed butternut squash
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • Handful of watercress
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp curry paste
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Heat a skillet with olive oil. Add tofu or whateverprotein you’re using, sliced mushrooms, and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sides of tofu are browned. Add butternut squash cubes, watercress, garlic, and curry. Saute 3 - 5 minutes. 

Squeeze the juice of 1 lime into the skillet, then add coconut milk. Cover and cook over medium heat for 5 - 10 minutes. Serve over brown rice or quinoa.


Today, we showed you some of our favorite, healthy fall recipes. As the weather gets colder, we also start to lose sunlight, resulting in many of us spending more time indoors. This results in lowered levels of dopamine and serotonin, which are produced both in the brain and in the gut. 

Dopamine and serotonin are released when we exercise or spend time outdoors, two things that tend to ramp up in the spring and summer months, but conversely drop off in the fall and winter — especially when the sun is fully set by 5 p.m., before many people have even left work.    

So, when those happy chemical levels drop, our body starts to seek it out, namely through food. That’s why we crave comfort foods that tend to be heavy insugars and fats. We do recommend that you still find time to step outside for a bit in the sunshine, and you shouldalways find time toexercise — no matter what season it is. And remember, if you’re not already takingSmarter Vitamin D, then start doing so and continue through the winter months.

We hope you try these recipes, which are not only healthy and delicious, but satisfying, as well. We guarantee they’ll get you into the true spirit of autumn!

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