We’ve briefly discussed some benefits of eating seasonally before, but now that Summer is in full swing and there’s an abundance of fresh produce all around, it’s the perfect time to go into more detail. So, here are five benefits of eating seasonal foods, plus a bonus benefit and a couple resources.
It’s easier to let fruits and vegetables fully ripen in the sun when they’re growing in their natural season. When they’re able to fully ripen in the sun, they have optimal flavor. On the other hand, off-season produce is picked before its ripened (there’s probably not adequate sun to allow natural ripening to occur), which leads to less optimal flavor. Think about a watermelon in January vs. a watermelon in August. We’d probably all agree that the August watermelon tastes much better than the January one!
Nutrients in produce come from sun and soil, so the sun fully ripening fruits and vegetables leads to maximum nutrition content upon harvesting. Produce that is harvested before it’s fully ripe is often not as nutrient-dense since it hasn’t had full exposure to sun and soil. Off-season produce is also often transported long distances before making it into grocery stores, and some of the nutrients are depleted during transport. So, a tomato harvested locally in August is almost certain to have higher nutrient content than a tomato harvested in Mexico in January.
#3 VARIETY, CREATIVITY, SCRATCH COOKING
Purchasing foods that are in season provides an opportunity to explore what’s actually in season, which might be different that what we’re used to seeing in grocery stores year-round. For example, you might find a seemingly exotic variety of radishes at a local farm stand, which is different than having apples and lettuce available in stores all year long. Taking opportunities to try different, new-to-you foods at different times of the year lends to more variety in the diet, which we know is good for health. And, more variety in food choices presents more opportunities for getting creative with cooking, as well as cooking more meals from scratch, which most people express lends itself to better health, too.
Eating seasonally puts us in touch with our environment and surroundings, which has addresses the body’s varying needs and natural healing processes. Take asparagus, which is naturally in season in the springtime. Asparagus is a natural diuretic, which means that it helps to flush excess fluid and sodium from the body. This seems like a perfect fit for springtime, which often finds us ready to shed some of the stagnant stuff we might have accumulated during the winter. Similarly, watermelon and cucumbers are very hydrating, which is helpful during the hot summer months, which are their natural growing season. Hot peppers are a staple in the hot climates where they grow readily, which is helpful since their heat helps induce the body’s natural cooling mechanism of sweating. Finally, things that we might think of as “heavy” foods, e.g. winter squashes and pumpkin, are perfect during their natural growing season of fall and winter because their heaviness provides us with some much needed extra warmth during colder months. Purchasing these foods locally also provides an opportunity to connect with local growers, e.g. at a farm stand or farmers market, which encourages getting to know your local food producers and supporting your local economy, if that’s something you value.
What is possibly the most appealing benefit of eating in-season foods is the fact that foods are cheaper when they’re in season. This is because of simple laws of supply and demand. When foods are in season, there’s an abundance of them. This leads to them being cheaper, which is definitely a benefit for the consumer! Think about the price of strawberries in December vs. strawberries in May: strawberries are likely much cheaper in May, simply because the supply is so much larger.
Off-season produce requires a lot of assistance to grow in an unnatural environment. This assistance often comes in the form of chemical pesticides and herbicides, which prevents high concentrations of health-promoting phytonutrients (more on that here in our Eat the Rainbow post). In-season produce is more likely to be free of these substances, which might mean more health benefits, as well as cleaner groundwater and soil.
As you can see, there are plenty of benefits of eating in-season produce! And here are a few resources you might find helpful in figuring what what foods are in season throughout the year both locally and nationally, as well as where to find farm stands, local markets, and more.
Seasonal Food Guide (what’s in season LOCALLY)
USDA Seasonal Produce Guide (what’s in season NATIONALLY)
Local Harvest (where to find farm stands, farmers markets, and more)