Seasons Change… and so should your diet! Consuming plenty of vegetables and low-glycemic fruits is one of the cornerstones of good health. Diets that have an emphasis on plant-based food sources are linked to a lower risk of developing deadly diseases like cancer and type-2 diabetes. But many Americans do not consume the recommended 5 – 13 servings of vegetables and fruit per day, and many more do not have access to fresh, seasonal, and local produce.
If you’ve ever compared fruits and vegetables from a local farm stand to those at the grocery store, you may have noticed a difference between their appearances and taste. This is because fruits and vegetables have growing seasons that determine when they are the most flavorful – and when they contain the most nutrients.
In fact, scientific studies have shown that nutrient levels in produce are higher at their peak season, with vitamin levels soaring to twice the level of other times during the year. Local produce that is harvested and eaten during the peak season is even more beneficial to your health, as the process of storing and shipping foods over long distances also causes the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to break down.
Because fruits and vegetables are usually comprised mostly of water, they undergo high rates of moisture-loss after they are harvested, which causes a deterioration in quality. Processing fruits and vegetables also causes a loss of nutrients – for instance, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is extremely water-soluble and is sensitive to heat that occurs during cooking and processing. Studies on fresh spinach and peas have showed that they lose their B-vitamin content simply by being stored in a cooler.
The concept of eating foods that are grown by nature’s schedule is not a new one – before the modern era of food processing and preservation, this was the natural routine of people throughout history. Building meals based upon what has just been harvested is a practice that is gaining traction again amongst chefs around the world because it just tastes better.
Fruit is juicier, sweeter, and has more pronounced flavor profiles; and vegetables and herbs are more flavorful and colorful. On the other hand, conventional produce is harvested out of season; covered in wax, doused in preservatives and chemicals; and is trucked long distances over long periods of time.
While the import of produce from other countries makes it easier to eat whatever fruits and vegetables you want – remember that choosing local, seasonal produce is also an environmentally-friendly move, as it cuts down on pollution emissions from freight trucks and ships and supports small farms that are threatened by the factory farming industry.
Making a trip to your local farm stand is truly worth the effort – and you’ll see that waiting for the season is also worth it in terms of freshness and flavor!
If you want to take it a step further – (and I hope you do!) – consider growing some of your food at home! Play with a small herb garden (even a small balcony provides enough space so that you can try out your green thumb), or go bigger and start a vegetable garden in your back yard or in a community space.
I really love what some communities have done by creating communal green spaces and roof top gardens for residents to use for growing plants. I encourage you to try growing at whatever level you can – even your kitchen counter provides enough space to sprout some seeds!
Consuming sprouts is another way to pack a mighty nutritional punch in a few small bites. A few broccoli sprouts can have a nutrient content that is greater than or equal to an entire head of broccoli! You can toss sprouts in your salad, juice them, or add them to soups and stews.
What’s in season now?
The availability of local, seasonal produce depends on where in the world you are! Check with local farms and visit farmer’s markets near you. If you are only able to buy your produce in the grocery store, still be aware of the season and try to purchase organic. You can also research what’s in season on the internet using online tools like this link from Sustainabletable.org
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To Your Happiest and Best Health!
Shahla M. Wunderlich , Charles Feldman , Shannon Kane , Taraneh Hazhin. “Nutritional quality of organic, conventional, and seasonally grown broccoli using vitamin C as a marker.” International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition Vol. 59, Iss. 1, 2008
Rickman, Joy C., Diane M. Barrett, and Christine M. Bruhn. “Nutritional Comparison of Fresh, Frozen and Canned Fruits and Vegetables. Part 1. Vitamins C and B and Phenolic Compounds.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 87.6 (2007): 930-44. Web.
“Seasonal Produce Guide.” USDA Snap-Ed Connection. United States Dept. of Agriculture, 20 Apr. 2016. Web.