It used to be you could only get cherries in summer or parsley in the spring. But in today’s world of global commerce, eating almost anything, at almost any time of the year is commonplace, but is that a good thing? Should we try to eat foods that are in season more often? We hear about eating locally, but what about seasonally? Are there benefits to eating foods in season?
Yes. Eating foods that are in season is a good practice that can potentially benefit your body, the environment and even your wallet.
There is a fair amount of research that suggests eating foods that are in season not only taste better but are actually better for you nutritionally. Produce is at its peak nutritional value when it is ripe. Unfortunately most produce is picked before it's ripe so it can make the journey to various grocery stores. And while along their trip the produce might gain color and softness, it loses nutrients. Once harvested, a vegetable is as nutritious as it’s going to get and for every day past harvest, the food’s nutritional value continues to decrease.
There’s also the connection between what’s ripe in nature and what our bodies need. For example in summer when it’s hot out, many foods that are refreshing and hydrating, such as watermelon are available. As the temperature starts to cool, our bodies need foods that generate warmth and sustained energy. And not surprisingly foods like sweet potatoes, squash and root vegetables are in season. Also ripe in fall are ginger and garlic, which are said to generate warmth and promote circulation.
Another benefit to eating seasonally is that it allows you to truly appreciate the flavor of the season. Think about it, do you remember a time when have you eaten so many blueberries in summer that you actually got sick of them by season’s end? Or can you remember being so excited for the first tomatoes of the season in August, or the crisp apples of fall? Eating seasonally lets you focus on what is freshest so that you can rediscover and appreciate things anew each season.
Being a seasonal eater also means being environmentally conscious. By eating food that is in season means your food doesn’t have to travel that far to get to you. Most produce grown in the U.S. travels an average of 1500-2000 miles before it’s consumed. That’s a long way to go and that means a lot of emissions from planes, trains and automobiles. Plus, we need to consider the preservatives and pesticides that are needed to keep the produce healthy for it’s long journey.
If great taste and better nutrition weren’t enough, eating seasonally is also cheaper most of the time. When a certain food is in season there is an abundance of it; and following the whole supply and demand model, the more there is of a particular item the cheaper it will be.
Seasonality is definitely location based. Meaning, what is at its prime in April in south Florida is not going to be the same as northern Maine. But there are some general guidelines.
Spring represents renewal and fresh new growth, so choose items such as: leafy, vibrant greens like spinach, kale, Swiss chard, or romaine lettuce.
Summer is when our bodies usually desire more cooling foods, like cucumbers, zucchini, or red bell peppers.
Fall and winter are when we need to eat foods that warm us and that means more cooked foods that often grow below the soil. Dense, nutrient and antioxidant-rich foods like onions, garlic, squash, turnips, potatoes and carrots to keep us warm and protect us against illness.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a great resource: they provide a comprehensive list of what is in ripe in every season and every state.
While we can eat whatever we want when we want, we probably shouldn’t, at least not exclusively. Our bodies were designed to need certain foods at certain times of the year. And fortunately Mother Nature is willing to oblige. At Diet-to-Go we understand and appreciate the benefits of using fresh, in season food and choose those items when possible.
Eating seasonally is not an all or nothing proposition. We should strive to eat a few more things that are season-specific each season and see what a difference it makes in the food’s taste, the way it makes you feel and perhaps even your budget. You may find the benefits outweigh any inconveniences.
Author: Sue Ridgeway