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September 2014 Health Challenge: Healthy Eating with the Seasons


Shoppers today know that the produce in their local supermarket is just as likely to include broccoli in July as it is in December. Yet fruits and vegetables in season are much tastier. There is nothing better than eating a summer peach or a crunchy apple on a fall day.


As we begin to move into fall, it is a great reminder to eat with the seasons. Seasonal eating provides opportunities to incorporate different healthy foods into our diet. Seasonal food tastes better, is more nutritious, and is usually easier on your wallet.


Taste Matters

For the majority of us, the taste of the food we buy is just as important as the cost. Have you ever purchased strawberries in the winter? It is just not the same.


Usually, when food is not in season locally, it’s either grown in a hothouse or shipped in from other parts of the world, and both affect the taste1. Compare a vine-ripened tomato in the summer still warm from the summer with a winter hothouse tomato. The hothouse tomato is not as red, a bit mealy, and is lacking in flavor. Out of season crops must be must be harvested early and refrigerated so they don’t rot during transportation. This affects their ability to ripen properly and cuts down on the natural flavor.


Nutrition Factor

Not only is eating in season tastier, but it is more nutritious as well. Produce picked and eaten at its peak largely has more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than foods harvested before they’re ripe and then shipped long distances2. Seasonal eating also forces us to build our meals around different foods during different times of the year – just as natured intended. This brings a variety of nutrients like vitamins and minerals into our diets.


In a research study3 conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in London, England, differences were found in the nutrient content of milk in summer versus winter. Iodine content was higher in the winter and beta-carotene content was higher in the summer. The differences were primarily due to differences in the diets of the cows. With more salt-preserved foods in winter and more fresh plants in the summer, cows produced nutritionally different milks during the two seasons4. Similarly, researchers in Japan found three-fold differences in the vitamin C content of spinach harvested in summer versus winter.


Cost

When produce is in season, there is usually an abundance of the crop, making it less expensive. Think of the packaged basil you see during the winter. The package contains smaller sprigs that frequently have black speckles and moldy leaves. This not-so-appetizing basil can cost about $3 per half ounce. Contrast that with summer basil, which is bright and crisp. This basil often sells for as little as $1-2 for a large bunch.4 When food is in season, you can often find grocery stores and farmers markets offering specials because there is simply too much of it, and it needs to be moved off the shelves.


Farm Fresh

Below are some simple ideas to help you find the best produce in season:

  • Join a CSA – CSA, or community supported agriculture, is a regular delivery of farm-fresh produce can be just the tool to get you eating in season. To find a CSA in your area, visit http://www.localharvest.org/csa/.
  • Hi-tech Hunting. There are many Web-based applications can help you find out what’s in season. Check your smart phone application store to see what is available.
  • Find a Farmers Market – A trip to your nearest farmers market is the simplest way to stock up on seasonal groceries. To find a farmers’ market in your area, visit http://apps.ams.usda.gov/FarmersMarkets/.5

So look for the fruits and vegetables that are in season, and try something new. Your meals will be fresh, nutritious and won’t hurt your budget.


References:

  1. Benefits of Eating What’s In Season

  2. Cleveland Clinic: Seasonal Eating

  3. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Nutrient analysis of liquid pasteurized milk. Food Surveillance Information Sheets, Number 128. 1997.

  4. http://life.gaiam.com/article/benefits-eating-what-s-season

  5. Cleveland Clinic: Healthy Food, Season by Season