Eating in Season
Isn't modern Big Agriculture great? With a quick trip to the corner grocery store, we have every variety of fruit and vegetable available to us, regardless of what time of year it is. Fresh blueberries in your morning oatmeal in December? Sure. Fresh grape tomatoes in dinner's salad in the dead of winter? No problem. But, unless you are buying in-season produce, fresh is a bit of misnomer. Buying fruits and vegetables while they are in season ensures that you are getting the best-tasting and most nutrient-dense foods available. For optimum health and food enjoyment, spend some time learning about the harvesting seasons.
True Meaning of Fresh
Produce not in season makes quite the trek to your local supermarket, taking anywhere from three days to several weeks, traveling on average nearly 2,000 miles. To ensure that they don’t spoil along the way, fruits and vegetables are picked before they have reached full maturity, meaning they have not only yet to reach their peak aroma and taste, but nutritional content as well. Theoretically, they should ripen during transportation, but this isn’t always the case. After harvesting, exposure to air, temperature changes, and artificial light all result in vitamin and mineral degradation and the necessity for more preservatives. Numerous studies have shown that produce picked at maturity and either consumed immediately or flash frozen on-site have higher levels of vital nutrients than what ends up in your grocery store display.* In particular, levels of vitamin C and antioxidants are especially sensitive to early harvesting. Studies have shown that fresh vegetables can lose up to 51 percent of their vitamin C content within 48 hours of being picked.* Even when stored in refrigerated environments, vegetables can lose nearly half of their water-soluble antioxidant activity within a matter of days.* We buy “fresh” fruits and vegetables because of superior taste and perceived nutritional benefits, but unless it is October, that crisp Fuji apple you just took a bite out of wasn’t fresh at all. June through August, instead of baking your famous apple pie for dessert, take advantage of seasonal freshness and try peach instead. Roasted acorn squash may sound delicious, but replace it with zucchini, which is at its nutritional peak in the summer.
Benefits of In-Season Produce
Along with a more pleasant aroma and taste and better nutrient profiles, in a display of Mother Nature’s brilliance, in-season produce often contains higher levels of specific constituents that are in greater need that time of year. For instance, summer fruits tend to have a higher water content so that you can meet hydration needs while enjoying the warm season weather. Watermelon and strawberries have the highest fluid content of any fruits, at approximately 92 percent water per volume, narrowly outpacing other summer fruits, such as grapefruit and cantaloupe. Similarly, summer cucumber and zucchini are nearly 96 percent water. Research has shown that refueling with summer fruits and vegetables actually rehydrates you better after a workout than drinking water or even most sports drinks thanks to the precise combination of water, amino acids, electrolytes, and vitamins that are lost through perspiration.* Due to extended darkness and cold weather, we tend to need more dietary vitamin D throughout the fall and winter; not surprisingly, some of the best sources of vitamin D, such as portabella mushrooms, are at their peak in the fall. A recently published review and meta-analysis has also provided some evidence that foods high in vitamin D may support the proper function of the immune system, reducing risk for all those winter season health threats.* Mother Nature knows what she’s doing. Take advantage of the abundant summer growing season by picking up some truly fresh raspberries and sugar snap peas for the family to snack on. Your health and your taste buds will thank you."
SEASONAL EATING TIPS
- Check your state’s growing guide to help you determine what produce is in season.
- Visit a local farmer’s market or go straight to the source: a farm.
- Pay attention to in-store prices. Transportation isn’t free; in-season produce tends to be cheaper.
- Support your local small-scale farmers by joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
- Plant your own garden for a great family activity.
*For research references email: firstname.lastname@example.org