You often hear both health experts and chefs say you should eat 'seasonally and include foods in your diet that are grown at the same time of the year that you eat them. Chef Pete even wrote an entire cookbook about eating Paleo by Season! This could mean eating squashes in the summer and fall, and artichokes in the spring and berries in the summer.
At first glance, eating seasonally may seem simple. Buy, cook and eat those foods that are being grown and harvested at that time of the year. There are real benefits to eating foods that are available at their peak right now. Eating seasonally is important and carries benefits to your health, the planet, and your wallet.
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7 Reasons Eating Seasonal Food is Better
The best consequence of eating seasonal produce is that you get the best tasting, healthiest food available. The food is grown closer to you so it does not have the opportunity to spoil or lose flavor on its trip to your grocery store. It is harvested at the peak of its season (although there is no real guarantee it has been picked at the peak of freshness), and sold during its season, so does not need to be stored. Ideally, this means you are getting fruits and vegetables that have not had much time to lose their flavor or their health benefits by sitting in a shipping container for a trip across the ocean.
The inverse is true for foods that are out of season. They have to be shipped from around the world to get to you, usually picked before the peak of their flavor in order to survive the long trip (or be allowed to mature while they travel).
Plants get their nourishment from the sun and soil. Seasonally fresh produce is picked when ripe and fully developed. The plant has had more sun exposure, which means it will have higher levels of antioxidants! Antioxidants are substances that help prevent the damaging effects of oxidation (damage) on cells throughout your body. Fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of antioxidants.
3. Your Wallet
One of the biggest benefit of eating seasonally is the money saved on produce. When you buy vegetables and fruits in season, you buy food at its peak of supply which lowers costs to farmers and distribution companies. It may seem like common sense, but is one of those things often ignored when grocery shopping.
A pleasant side-effect of eating what's in season is that you get a broader variety of foods in your diet. Those foods can broaden your palate, for one, but they may also expose you to dishes and ingredients you may not have otherwise explored, and while it doesn't go for every location, it can also help you eat a more well-rounded and balanced diet as well. Expanding your horizons a little more can open the door to way more delicious food that you can get and prepare cheaply.
Some of these factors can be compounded if you buy local as well as seasonal. Getting to know where your food is coming from, who is growing your food and how they do it also makes you feel more connected to that whole process. Just because you buy seasonal does not mean that a huge food distribution company has not harvested the produce early and stored it in a warehouse. You will probably still benefit from better food for less money, but the fruits and vegetables are probably not at the peak of freshness, flavor, or nutrition.
If you buy locally, you are getting foods that are seasonal, fresh, and support local farmers and businesses in your community. Shop at a nearby farmer's market or food co-op, or support a local farm by signing up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project, or order some Pete's Paleo meals which are all carefully and lovingly locally and seasonally sourced. Choosing local options supports the creation communities around food that encourage knowledge seeking and engagement in your ocal environment. Together you are more powerful and big change can happen.
6. Home Cooking
Eating seasonally also forces you to cook more. Other than getting Pete's Paleo meals delivered, cooking meals yourself is one of the best things you can do for your health. When you start to take back control of what you put in to your body, which oil you choose to cook with, how much sugar you add to your food, you are consciously making better choices for your health. Cooking is also a great activity to do with your kids, family and friends.
Whether you shop at the market or you’re part of a CSA, eating seasonally keeps challenging your creativity to come up with new, fun and delicious dishes based on what you find. Maybe you choose to google a recipe or peruse Paleo by Season to find new inspiration and ideas about what to do with all that kale. Variety is also healthy for your body; by changing our menu according to what’s available you are also less likely to develop food intolerances.
Seasonal produce can grow without too much added human assistance including minimal to zero pesticides and genetically modification. We know how these toxic compounds can contaminate the water and soil and also our health. Seasonal food is more likely to be locally produced as well, which reduces the load on our environment due to storage, energy resources and transport, or food mileage.
How to Tell What Is 'In Season' Near You
If you find yourself unfamiliar with what seasonal foods are available where you live, it is not too difficult to find out. Take a quick glance around the produce section of your grocery store. Pay attention to the way prices are trending. Have you noticed that berries, peaches, nectarines, and other stone fruit get really expensive at the end of fall? Or that the ones that are available look so much less appealing and appetizing than they did during the spring? That is always a good indicator. Another good indicator is an abundance of something specific, and it is either on sale or very affordable – potatoes in the fall are a good example.
The natural cycle of produce is perfectly designed to support your health. Apples grow in the fall and they are the perfect transition food helping the body get rid of excess heat and cool down before winter. In the spring the abundance of leafy greens supports alkalizing the body and detoxing the liver after a long winter of heavier foods. In the summer eating more fruits, berries, cucumber, watermelon and the like leave you feeling cooler and more hydrated. Building a lifestyle around seasonal food facilitates your body’s natural rhythms, cycles and healing processes.