Brrr. That chill in the air can only mean one thing…winter is near, or already here. Winter brings about many changes. A change in wardrobe from fall jackets to heavy winter coats; a change in time (hopefully you are adjusting to the end of daylight savings); and a change in day to day activities with more of our time spent indoors. Do you realize that many cultures around the world also change their diet for the season? Today, it is easy to forget about the importance of eating for the season. Modern technology allows us access to the same foods regardless of the time of year, so we can enjoy peaches in January and winter squash in June. And while I do not want to discourage eating these foods out of season (get your fruits and veggies any time you can), I would like to highlight the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables during their peak season:
- Foods in season have higher nutrient value. Fruits and vegetables begin to lose nutrients the second they are harvested. In fact, by the time produce reaches our plates from countries like Mexico and Brazil, up to 80 percent of its nutrients are lost. Eating seasonally means eating locally. Eating locally eliminates much of the time involved in transporting food from farm to plate, and this allows seasonal foods to retain many more nutrients.
- Fruits and vegetables in season taste better. Look no further than the common tomato for a great example of how the taste of food differs according to season. Summer tomatoes are red, juicy and delicious versus winter tomatoes which are generally white, mushy and relatively tasteless.
- Eating seasonal is better for the environment. Each year millions of gallons of fossil fuels are burned to transport food from farm to plate. Eating and buying food in season from local farmers can greatly reduce this negative consequence of food production.
- Seasonal foods better support our bodies. Believe it or not, your body adapts to local living conditions. For example, cultures living in tropical climates thrive on the cool, refreshing tropical fruits that grow there. In contrast, people who live in cooler climates (like Minnesota for example) are better supported during winter months by seasonal foods like sweet potatoes and winter squash, which have a warming effect.
So how can you start to eat more seasonal foods? Start by being more mindful in the grocery store. Most grocery stores label the country of origin of the food, allowing you to seek out foods from your state or the surrounding regions as much as possible. Right now this might mean choosing Honeycrisp apples if you live in the Midwest rather than Granny Smith apples from Argentina.
To find a better selection of local and seasonal food, consider a visit to your local co-op or health food store. Farmers’ markets are also wonderful options during the spring, summer and fall seasons. Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSAs) is yet another great way to gain access to seasonal foods. CSA members or subscribers purchase shares at the beginning of the year and receive weekly or monthly boxes of local produce throughout the growing season.
The Internet has several resources to help you determine which foods are in season during a particular month. Here is a link for those living in the Midwest: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/hpcd/chp/cdrr/nutrition/docsandpdf/MinnesotaSeasonalFruitsandVegetables.pdf
Now go bundle up and enjoy the last few weeks of fall… and the bountiful array of hearty fruits and vegetables Autumn provides!