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How To Eat Healthy With Seasonal Foods

A century ago, food was sourced much differently than it is today. Americans grew their own resources often on family farms, in their gardens, or food was bought in local markets, daily. Our own grandparents grew up eating seasonally, if for no other reason than out of necessity.

Yes, it is nice to have access to fruits and vegetables that would not normally be grown in our area, such as bananas or watermelons here in the Midwest. However, eating locally and in-season is a crucial component to achieving a more complete diet. Of course, eating foods that are seasonal is also a sustainable practice that has huge (positive) environmental impacts.

What is seasonal eating?

Each food has its own growing cycle where it is planted, grows to maturity, and then finally, is harvested. In general, these foods are native to an area and a “growing season”. Back to our grandparents, who used the land to grow and forage their food dependent on the season and then, enjoyed the fruits (pun intended) of their labors.

Eating seasonally means that you harvest, preserve and eat whatever fruits and vegetables are, well, in season. Up until the 20th century, eating seasonally was practiced almost singularly but with modernization came convenience which has encouraged higher consumption of processed foods and movement away from locally produced food(s). Not all modernization is bad, in fact, refrigeration has greatly impacted the life expectancy of many seasonal foods and also given us greater access to crops from around the country, and the world, year-round.

What are the benefits of eating seasonally?

If you hit up your local farmers market do you agree that foods just taste better? It seems that sweet corn is way, well, sweeter and lettuce greener. This is because small local farms can pick their foods and get them to the local market while they are at the peak of their freshness. This results in fresher produce which simply tastes better compared with foods that come from large commercial farms where quantity is emphasized over quality.

Eating seasonally is better for your taste buds, your health, the environment, and your wallet.

Better taste.

You would probably be very surprised at how far your food travels. Off-season foods spend days to weeks getting to you, and this comes with a price. Imported food is often picked early before the fruit or vegetable has had a chance to grow to fruition, or they spoil a little on the way. Whichever happens – flavor and freshness are compromised.

In stark contrast, local and seasonal produce travels a short distance and does not spoil prior to getting to local farmers markets, and to you. Local foods are harvested at the optimal time, so the taste is maximized and foods are flavorful, juicy, nutritious, and delicious.

Another bonus, many local small farmers will tend to grow their foods more organically than large-scale food suppliers, which often enhances the flavor.

Photo by Jacopo Maia on Unsplash

Less Pesticides & Preservatives.

Fruits and vegetables that are grown out of season are often harvested prematurely, and artificial agents are used to slow the ripening process. In addition, large crop farmers often use herbicides and pesticides liberally to ensure against crop disease. Pesticides have been linked to reproductive and neurological defects and also, cancer.

Local fruits and vegetables tend to require less use of adverse agents, which is great for our overall health.

Here in Minnesota, our local farmers will use certified organic products and practices to reduce the amount of chemicals and also, synthetic pesticides that pollute the soil and water.

Photo by Somi Jaiswal on Unsplash

Balanced Diet

Foods that are able to grow to their optimal pick date are simply more nutritious. It is important to pick and gather crops at their proper maturity. Foods grown locally and grown to fruition are full of nutrients such as vitamins and minerals that help to support many bodily functions.

Picking fruits or vegetables at their peak ensures flavor and nutrition, although this isn’t always when a vegetable is at its largest. Often, this means crops may be harvested several times, think tomato plants.

Buying local and consuming seasonal foods also encourages a greater variation in diet. Ensuring proper nutrition is a necessary means to prevent disease and optimize our health. Incorporating fruits and vegetables into our diet is an important part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle, as they are an important source of vitamins and minerals.

Try purchasing fruits and vegetables in their frozen form when not in season. They’re picked at the peak of their ripeness and flash-frozen to retain nutrients (and flavor).

Did you know? Cyclical foods support seasonal-specific needs. For example, spring vegetables are important to both alkalize and detoxify our body, which is important after a long winter of comfort foods.  Because fruits and vegetables are “in season for a reason”, citrus fruits, which are “winter ready” are packed with vitamin C which we need to support our immune system, especially during the cold & flu season.

Happy Wallet

Eating seasonal foods is often easier on the wallet. Given that seasonal foods are more abundant, local farmers charge less because there is so much for them to sell. Also, they are able to cut out the middleman and distributer, which saves everyone money! Buying locally also supports the farmers, community, and economy.

Better for Mother Earth

Buying within a season and locally helps the environment because it cuts out the lengthy distribution (overhaul trucks and airplanes) process from farmer to store. Per this article, approximately 1/3 of all human-caused greenhouse gas emission is linked to food -further, about 10% is related to food production.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Great! But how do I begin?

The first step is figuring out what foods are in season using this seasonal food guide. Then, do a little research to figure out what local farmer’s markets are near you. Believe it or not, there are farmer’s markets that go all year round.

I know that personally, I live on Pinterest and find healthy recipes that offer great ideas for meal time, year-round. Often, I find that I make a hearty soup or stew with vegetables that are needing to be used quickly.

Featured Photo by David Vázquez on Unsplash

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