The abundance of food available these days is incredible. The U.S. and other western nations are unique in our ability to be able to import produce no matter the time of year. So if you want a peach, you can get a peach—even in the middle of January. Got a thing for avocados? You can enjoy guacamole year-round. But even though we’re spoiled for choice, there’s a strong case to be made for eating seasonally.
In many other countries, however, there are distinct times of the year when certain foods are available, based largely on growing seasons. So when the season is over, you don’t see those foods again until the following year. I believe we can learn a lot from more traditional cultures and communities, because while our year-round food supply is certain convenient, it’s not always the best option.
Read on to see why, and learn four reasons you should stick to eating seasonally.
If you’re watching your wallet, eating seasonally can make a huge impact on your grocery bill. I always recommend buying organic produce, especially if you’re choosing items on the Dirty Dozen List. But when you purchase those items in season—even organic—gone are the exorbitant prices you’re paying to have food shipped from far-away locales. Instead, it’s more likely that the fruits and veggies you’re purchasing are from a local (or closer) area. Less distance means less cost to get to your supermarket—which translates into cheaper prices.
There’s also often an abundance of food that’s grown in season—if you’ve ever grown zucchini, for instance, you know how quickly they can multiply! In order to keep produce from going bad before it’s sold, farmers will often heavily discount the food to get it off their hands, meaning even more savings for you. That’s especially great news if you’re eating a low-carb or ketogenic diet that relies heavily on fresh vegetables.
You’re getting more nutrients
Think about your most recent trip to the grocery store or market. Do you usually just grab the same go-to items without thinking? Then you’re likely missing out on a variety of nutrient-dense foods.
While eating any fruits and veggies is a good thing, when you eat seasonally, you’re getting a wider array of vitamins and minerals, particularly ones that you don’t normally choose when all of your standby options are available. You’ll also increase your intake of naturally occurring digestive enzymes that help break down food, and antioxidants that help fight free radical damage.
Research has found that the more you eat the rainbow, the more benefits you’re getting from your food, and eating seasonal produce is an easy way to do that.
The food is healthier
On average, fruits and vegetables travel anywhere from 1,300 to 2,000 miles to reach our stores, with a typical carrot traveling 1,838 miles to get to your salad! Not only does this have an environmental impact (more on that later), but as soon as fruits and vegetables are harvested, their nutrient density starts declining.
With as many as five days in transit, another one to three days at the store and then up to a week in the refrigerator at home, we definitely aren’t consuming food at its nutritional peak. But when you buy seasonally, food isn’t being carted in from halfway across the world. Instead, it’s usually grown much closer to your own backyard, which means you’re getting foods that are naturally ripened and nutrient-rich, with less travel, processing and packaging.
It’s environmentally friendly
To ensure produce looks fresh and appetizing from the time it’s picked until it arrives on your local shelves and, ultimately, on your plate, it’s often doused with chemicals and pesticides that stay in the soil long after the food is harvested.
An apple, for example, may be sprayed up to 16 times over the course of its lifetime with more than 30 different chemicals. And if a food is coming from overseas, it might be treated with chemicals that aren’t even allowed in the States. Regular soil quality tests might also not occur, so food can be grown in areas with heavy metals and contaminants before being added to your shopping cart.
Conversely, when you eat seasonally, it’s much more likely that you’re buying local produce, eliminating the need for chemicals and pesticides (which have been linked to ADHD and other health conditions) to keep your food looking fresh—because it actually is fresh! You also reduce the amount of miles your food is traveling to get to your plate, which benefits the environment. Less transportation means less pollution and lower needs for costly refrigeration (along with more support of your local farmers).
Putting it in Practice
While in most areas it’s impossible to eat completely in season, local farmers markets feature almost exclusively seasonal foods. At the grocery store, you can usually tell what’s in season by checking out which fruits and veggies are on sale. Some larger supermarkets even have a local section, where you can support area farms.
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He recently authored ‘Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and Five Surprising Steps to Cure It’ and he operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites at http://www.DrAxe.com. Follow him on Twitter @DRJoshAxe.