Health and Budget Benefits of Eating with the Seasons
Growing up on a farm in the North Carolina mountains, I could tell you exactly when potatoes, corn, tomatoes, green beans and cucumbers were in season. Those we had in abundance! I could also tell you when the cherries were just right for picking because climbing the trees and eating more than we put in our buckets is still one of my favorite summer memories.
That’s how I grew up, but somewhere along the way, I lost track of seasonal eating and turned to what was on the grocery store shelves instead. The key word there is shelves, because that’s where the boxes and cans of processed foods are kept. By the time I finally turned back to fresh fruits and vegetables, I couldn’t have told you what was in season when if you had paid me –until I discovered my local farmers market.
While I am definitely well-versed in the health and budget benefits of eating with the seasons now, I wanted to go to an expert to find out more about why eating with the seasons is so good for us. In this Q&A, Functional Medicine Dietician Maria Zamarripa from the foodfarmacist R.D. answers many of the most common questions asked when it comes to eating seasonally.
Peppermint Tea & Me: What does eating with the seasons mean?
Maria Zamarripa: Eating with the seasons means that you change the types of foods you eat based on which produce items are in season for that particular time of the year.
PTM: Why is eating with the seasons good for our overall health and wellbeing?
MZ:Eating with the seasons promotes nutrient diversity in your diet, meaning you are able to consume a wider variety of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients from different foods throughout the year.
PTM: How is seasonal food nutritionally different than food that’s not in season?
MZ: Seasonal food is often higher in certain vitamins, like vitamin C and folate, as well as various antioxidants, which help to fight aging and protect the cells in our body from damage.
PTM: Is eating with the seasons possible to do all year round and still get the nutrients we need?
MZ:It is definitely possible to obtain all of the nutrients you need by eating seasonal food. However, your access to seasonal food choices may depend on where you live. For example, people who live in cooler, northern climates may have limited access to winter citrus fruits, like oranges or grapefruits. The age-old recommendation to “eat the rainbow” is a great way to ensure you are getting all of the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
PTM: Many people would say that our food system has made tremendous progress because we do have so much produce available to us year-round. How would you respond to that?
MZ: Eating seasonally is a great way to try new foods, save money, and support local farmers. But, it’s not always possible to eat 100 percent of your produce from seasonal foods. For that reason, advances in modern agriculture is a huge benefit to all of us!
The most important thing to keep in mind is that eating ANY type of fruit or vegetable, whether in season or not, will greatly benefit your health. Just like with any nutrition recommendation, avoid going overboard. Eating with the seasons is great, but eating more fruits and vegetables overall is still the most beneficial way to improve your health.
PTM: Generally speaking, what is the cost difference between eating with the seasons and eating produce that’s available in the grocery store at any point in the year?
MZ: The cost savings of eating seasonally depends largely on how many servings of fruits and vegetables you eat per day. The average adult should eat at least 2-3 cups of vegetables per day and 2 cups of fruit per day. For a family with two adults meeting this recommendation, cost savings of eating seasonally may roughly add up to over $15 of savings per week (or $60+ per month).
PTM: How can we tell which fruits and vegetables are in season?
MZ: An easy way to know what’s in season is to take a look at the sales ads for your grocery store. Foods that are in season will generally be on sale or cheaper than other produce items. This is simply a result of supply and demand.
My Note: Another great resource for knowing what’s in season is The Seasonal Food Guide. You can simply plug in where you live and the month and it pulls up a list of what should be available near you.
Be sure and read Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucus Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. These books are what helped me to become interested in eating seasonally again.
In addition to all of the reasons Maria gave, I would add that eating with the seasons also gives us variety with our food. It’s what lets a summer meal look and taste different than a winter meal, and it’s what lets us appreciate the food we eat all the more knowing that we have it in the here and now, but also knowing that something else is just around the corner.