Ah, there’s nothing like enjoying a luscious, sweet strawberry from the local farmers’ market in the height of summer.
Sure, you can buy imported berries at the grocery store in January, but they won’t taste the same. Not by a long shot.
And the taste isn’t the only difference, say nutritional experts.
Time to get the dirt on the benefits of eating seasonally and locally.
- Better Taste: When produce is picked for immediate consumption, it will have a much better flavor. Mass transport of produce involves early not-yet-ripe harvesting and refrigeration, which are both flavor enemies.
- Ditto on Nutrition: Fruits and veggies that are eaten in season are more nutritious. Need proof? One study found broccoli grown during peak season (fall) boasted a higher vitamin C content than broccoli grown during spring. What’s more, when produce is “forced” to grow out year-round, chemicals and ripening agents are used. This process helps protect the produce from bacteria and other pathogens on their way to the grocery store. That’s good, right? Well, not really. You see, artificially ripened produce is not as tasty (hello, bland January berries!) and often not as nutritious.
- Less Time Between Harvest and Purchase: Even the freshest produce loses its nutrient value after harvest. University of California studies show the veggies can lose 15 to 55 percent of vitamin C, for instance, within a week! And that clamshell of organic spinach you toss in your cart? Well, it can lose up to 90 percent of its vitamins within the first 24 hours after harvest! Many of us live in areas where it’s tough to eat veggies grown locally year-round. But it’s something to consider. That said, fresh fruit and veggies (from near and far) are well worth incorporating into your diet.
Gut Health: Studies show that whole organically grown foods are best for our microbiome. Why? They don’t use pesticides, fertilizers, and toxins that can mess with soil quality. The soil is where healthy fungi and bacteria live and thrive. When those fruits and veggies grow in rich, healthy soil, they absorb the microbes and the soil nutrients. Bacteria benefits the plant, which pays it forward, benefiting those who eat the plant. It’s a win-win! Some say how farmers treat their soil is just as important as how they grow their crops. In the end, it all leads to healthier guts. To support those beneficial gut microbes, load up on a wide variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and perhaps a quality probiotic supplement, such as Zenwise Digestive Enzymes.
Pro Tips for Seasonal Produce Shopping
- Chat with Farmers: Part of the fun of farmers’ markets is learning about produce from the folks who actually grow it!
- Grow it Yourself! Start small with easy-to-grow salad greens. Once you’re feeling confident, graduate to other veggies.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): Most communities have CSA boxes available. These feature seasonally grown produce from local farmers. Learn more here.
What’s in Season Right Now?
The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture offers some basic info.
Fruits include apricots, strawberries, and rhubarb. Vegetables range from carrots, broccoli, lettuce, onion to Swiss Chard, asparagus, peas, and radishes.
Fruits include strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. But don’t forget luscious stone fruits, including peaches, cherries, plums, and melons of all ilk. Summer veggies run the gambit from tomatoes, corn, and cucumbers to squash and eggplant.
Apples, grapes, and pears make their appearance in the autumn months. You’ll also want to add pumpkin, cranberries, sweet potatoes, green beans, and yams to your fall grocery list.
Citrus, including oranges and grapefruit, make the scene in the winter months. As for veggies, don’t miss Brussels sprouts and root vegetables, such as parsnips, turnips, and rutabagas.
For more specific intel for your region of the country, check out this seasonal food guide.
Want some recipe ideas for all your fresh farmers’ market finds? Be sure to browse the Zenwise Healthy Eats blog section.