While the produce selection at the grocery store may not vary throughout the year, eating fruits and vegetables according to their natural growing season can provide a surprising range of benefits.
Seasonal eating may have recently emerged as a trend in the United States, but eating local, seasonal food is something people have done throughout history. In addition to connecting people to the rhythm of the seasons, eating fruits and vegetables during their normal growth time is a “cornerstone” to good health, according to Cleveland Clinic Wellness.
“Seasonal eating means two things, really: building meals around foods that have just been harvested at their peak and adjusting your diet to meet the particular health challenges of winter, spring, summer and fall,” the clinic said. “While it may seem like a luxury to have any food we want, anytime we want it, eating foods in season offers many benefits.”
1. Seasonal Eating Saves Money
One benefit of eating produce in season is that prices are generally lower. The reason is simple economics: When a product is available in large quantities, the cost of the product is reduced. As a result, fruits and vegetables are typically cheaper during their natural growing season.
“Seasonal food is much cheaper to produce for the farmers who would rather sell their products for a lower price, than not at all,” said Katrine Van Wyk with Mind Body Green, adding that consumers should “cash in on the seasonal bounty.”
2. Seasonal Eating Provides Extra Nutrition
Choosing produce during its natural growing season also ensures peak nutritional value.
Fruits and vegetables contain the highest nutritional value when they are freshly harvested. Once harvested, however, produce begins to quickly lose nutrients. For instance, vegetables such as spinach and green beans lose two-thirds of their vitamin C within seven days.
“So we know fresh-from-the-source is best,” said Tabitha Alterman with Mother Earth Living. “And we also know that papayas sitting on a grocer’s shelf in Idaho in December are far from it. “That ‘fresh’ produce you’re buying has traveled days or weeks on its journey from far-away harvest to the store near you. And that often means it (has) been harvested before it hit that important nutritional peak, to boot.”
3. Seasonal Eating Reduces Chemical Exposure
Fruits and vegetables grown out of season need more assistance to stay alive, resulting in increased usage of pesticides, chemicals, waxes and preservative to not only grow the produce but also make it look appetizing at the grocery store. Buying produce seasonally, therefore, can eliminate excessive exposure to these harmful substances.
“Many small family farms cannot afford to go through organic certification but still follow very natural and healthy growing practices,” Van Wyk said. “So when shopping at the farmers market, you don’t have to be as careful about finding ‘organic’ produce as you are when shopping at the super market.”
4. Seasonal Eating Supports Local Farmers
In addition to saving money and supporting health, eating seasonally helps your local economy by supporting small farms.
Commercial farming not only saps the soil of nutrients, Alterman said, but also reduces the very nutrition of the crops. Wheat and barley have up to 50 percent less protein than they had in 1938, while corn has lost much of its protein, oil and amino acids over the years.
While commercial farming can be harmful, small farmers are typically more nurturing to the land – growing crops for their nutritional qualities and flavor instead of their shelf life.
“Our potential for optional health encompasses more than our day-to-day diets,” Alterman said, “but eating nutritious, in-season food produced conscientiously is an excellent step toward becoming part of something bigger than all of us.”