Eating healthy can seem overwhelming. We are bombarded with all or nothing messages like “you must eat organic all the time” or “you must eat only foods in season.” While these are great goals, eating healthy doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. And while the importance of eating in season can’t be denied, it’s actually pretty easy to do.
In our world of global commerce, where we can get just about any food at any time of the year, why would we need to eat a certain food just because it’s in season? Isn’t everything in season at one time or another someplace? What is the importance of eating in season? Why does it matter?
Why seasonal eating is important
First of all there is the taste, when you eat foods that are in season they just taste better. Think about eating a tomato straight off the vine from the garden, or picking a ripe plum from the branches of a plum tree and eating it straight away. The flavors are so intense it’s almost decadent. It’s because you are eating these fruits when they are ripe and in season, when they are at their healthiest. And when fruits and vegetables are at their healthiest, they are also at their tastiest.
Next there is the nutrition, when you eat fruits and vegetables that are in season they provide more nutrients than at any other time. When produce is picked before it’s completely ripe because it has to travel to the store, it loses some of its nutritional value. Further, transporting produce sometimes requires irradiation (zapping the produce with a burst of radiation to kill germs) and preservatives (such as wax) to protect the produce, which is subsequently refrigerated during the trip. Neither of these procedures improves the fruit or vegetable’s nutritional value.
Finally there is the economics of eating in season. It’s cheaper. When produce is in season locally, the relative abundance of the crop usually makes it less expensive. It’s the basic law of supply and demand, and when crops are in season you’ll be rewarded financially by purchasing what’s growing now. And if it’s in season where you live, transporting the item to your store will be shorter, and less expensive. Ideally having your own personal vegetable garden and fruit orchard on your property would be the cheapest way to go but since that’s probably not feasible, a short trip to the store or farmer’s market for both you and the produce is not nearly as pricey as importing an item from across the world.
How to eat seasonally
Obviously in different parts of the world, different foods will be in season at different times. This holds true even within the UK: London has a different growing season than say Manchester. But there are some general guidelines you can follow to ensure optimal nutrition and taste in every season:
• In spring, focus on tender, leafy vegetables such as Swiss chard, spinach, Romaine lettuce, fresh parsley, and basil.
• In summer, stick with light, juicy foods including strawberries, apples, pears, and plums; vegetables like summer squash, broccoli, cauliflower, and corn; and spices and seasonings like peppermint and coriander are all great summer choices.
• In fall, the autumn harvest foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, and garlic are the best choices. The best spices and seasonings are things like ginger, peppercorns, and mustard seeds.
• In winter, root vegetables are the best choices including potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips and beets.
Sometimes eating healthy can be intimidating. You want to do the right thing, but when we are told to do so, you “must only eat foods that are in season”, well, that can be downright daunting. Fortunately healthy eating is not an all or nothing proposition; you aren’t going to compromise your health if you eat a tomato from Spain in January. So don’t stress about eating the occasional out of season fruit or vegetable (hey, you’re eating fruits and vegetables). But if you generally try to eat foods that are in season where you live, you will not only be rewarded with better nutrition but also taste and perhaps a little extra change in your wallet.