You probably know that eating the right foods is essential for optimal health — but have you ever stopped to consider whether you’re eating the right foods at the right time? While eating more fruits and veggies is always a good idea, eating seasonally is really important, too. It’s not only good for your health, but it benefits the environment and your wallet as well.
The benefits of seasonal eating
In the United States, we’re pretty spoiled by the nearly unlimited food options we have at any time of year. But although we can enjoy strawberries in December or oranges in July, that’s not always a great thing. When fruits and veggies travel long distances to reach us (which is typically the only way we can enjoy them out of season), we’re getting less nutritional bang for our buck. The second the produce is harvested, its nutritional density begins to decline.
If you consider that food can spend up to five days in transit, then sit at the supermarket for another few days until you buy it, before spending up to a week in the refrigerator at home — well, it’s no surprise that the vitamin C content of broccoli is slashed in half when it’s shipped from outside the country.
When you eat seasonally, however, chances are high that you’re also eating locally (or nationally, at least). That means your food is travelling a lot less distance — thus reducing its environmental impact, along with packaging and processing needs, while simultaneously increasing its nutrient load. If you are lucky enough to have farmers markets or supermarkets showcasing local produce, it also means you can ask questions about how your food was grown, which is something that’s not possible when you buy grapes or kale that were shipped from overseas.
Seasonal eating also costs less — supply is high and it costs less to get the food from the farmer to your plate. Just as importantly, eating food at the peak of its season means that you’re getting some of the freshest, tastiest fruits and veggies around.
You’re also likely to have greater variety in your diet when you’re eating seasonally. Sticking to the same foods year-round can put you in a bit of a food rut, but eating what’s actually growing in-the-moment allows you to try foods you might not normally pick up and force you to get creative in the kitchen.
This spring, there are tons of fruits and veggies that are tasty and good for you, too. Here are some of my favorites:
Strawberries are a universally enjoyed food, but because they’re so ubiquitous and well-liked, we often forget just how good they are for us. Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A. Because of this, they’re packed with antioxidants, which slow down the oxidative stress responsible aging, as well as chronic conditions like heart attack, stroke, and heart disease. Enjoy strawberries solo, add them to your smoothies or bake them into this gluten-free strawberry bread.
This vegetable is on my Healing Diet list because it’s such an all-around nutrient champion. Chowing down on artichokes has been linked with a reduction in unhealthy cholesterol levels and inflammation, as well as an improvement in blood flow, thanks to a substance they contain called cynarin. And because they increase the body’s production of digestive bile, artichokes benefit the liver and digestive system, too. Grab some fresh-cut artichokes and enjoy them in this goat cheese and artichoke dip or baked Italian chicken.
Like other leafy greens, arugula is packed with antioxidants. Because it’s high in carotenoids like beta carotene and leutin, arugula is also helpful for maintaining eye health, as these substances protect the retina, cornea and other parts of the eye from UV damage. Arugula is also an anti-inflammatory food, which can help reduce cholesterol levels and heart disease risk. Arugula has a slightly bitter taste that pairs well with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar. You can use it in place of your favorite green in salads or sprinkle it on top of pizza. I love this warm arugula salad with pecorino.
Aside from their lovely color, beets have a lot going for them. Beets have anti-inflammatory compounds in them, which help keep inflammation levels in check. This is critically important, as Inflammation is at the root of most diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Beets are also known as natural blood cleansers because they help rid the body of heavy metals and toxins. And if you need some help feeling frisky, beets can help; the boron and nitrates found in the vegetable can help regulate the production of sex hormones.
Often overlooked in the produce section, it’s time for radishes to get their due. They’re full of fiber, which eliminates constipation and keeps you feeling full for longer, which is helpful if you’re trying to lose weight. Fiber can also help keep your heart healthy, thanks to the flavonoids that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. And if you want to look younger, radishes can be especially beneficial. They’re packed with vitamin C, which is necessary for the production of collagen that keeps your face looking smooth. Give radishes a seasonal spin in this pear salad with sautéed spinach.