The health benefits of eating seasonally

The health benefits of eating seasonally

These days, we’re fortunate to have access to many fruits and vegetables year-round because it’s easier to transport foods long-distance. But do you know what’s in season where you live and the benefits of eating seasonally?

“Eating seasonally means you enjoy the fruits and vegetables that are in season where you live,” says Christi Hansen, MS, RDN, LD, a licensed and registered dietitian at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “These foods are typically at the height of their nutritional value, taste great and aren’t traveling far to get to you.”

The benefits of eating seasonally

Foods that are grown and eaten during their regular season may be more nutritionally dense, according to research. To ripen foods grown out of their natural season, growers may use ripening agents or post-harvest treatments on the plants, including gases, heat processes and chemicals.

These processes help growers produce food on a large scale and allows the food to stay fresh during its journey from the farm to the grocery store. But while they offer a convenient way to access produce year-round, the process of artificially ripening produce may diminish its nutrition and taste.

And depending on what you buy, seasonal produce can also be more affordable since it’s readily available in larger quantities.

Shopping seasonally and locally

When thinking about eating seasonally, it’s also helpful to consider buying from local growers, says Hansen.

“When buying local, in-season produce, you get exposed to different varieties of produce that perhaps aren’t available at the grocery store,” she explains.

Local produce is often fresher because it didn’t have to travel as far to reach you, which affects both flavor and nutrition.

“Certain nutrients – like vitamin C – degrade over time,” she says. “You’ll generally have a fresher item if you buy from a local producer.”

How to eat seasonally

“Eating seasonally is tied to our food history, culture, socialization and traditions,” says Hansen. “You’re eating what grows with the rhythm of the earth.”

Here are her tips for eating according to the seasons:

  • Know what’s in season (check out the list below).

  • Visit your local farmers market.

  • Sign up for a community-supported agriculture (CSA) box.

  • Visit a nearby roadside stand.

  • Look for locally grown and seasonal produce at your grocery store. Many grocery stores buy local fruits and vegetables when they’re in season.

  • Grow a garden in your backyard or neighborhood community space.

  • Think back to your childhood memories – did you eat peach ice cream in the summer or asparagus in the spring? Bring back your favorites or start new traditions of your own, such as sliced watermelon every Fourth of July or a sweet potato dish each Thanksgiving.  

  • Check out seasonal cookbooks. Hansen says older cookbooks often have a wealth of information about eating seasonally because years ago, many people didn’t have as much access to a variety of produce like we do now.

  • Buy in bulk. Perhaps you come across a big basket of fresh, ripe strawberries at the farmers market. Chop and freeze them, use them in several recipes, or share them with family and friends.

  • Have a themed potluck. Ask each person to bring a dish with a certain seasonal ingredient.

What’s in season

According to the USDA, here’s what’s in season throughout the year, though this may vary based on where you live.

Spring:

  • Apples

  • Apricots

  • Asparagus

  • Avocados

  • Bananas

  • Broccoli

  • Cabbage

  • Carrots

  • Celery

  • Collard greens

  • Garlic

  • Herbs

  • Kale

  • Kiwifruit

  • Lemons

  • Lettuce

  • Limes

  • Mushrooms

  • Onions

  • Peas

  • Pineapples

  • Radishes

  • Rhubarb

  • Spinach

  • Strawberries

  • Swiss chard

  • Turnips

Summer:

  • Apples

  • Apricots

  • Avocados

  • Bananas

  • Beets

  • Bell peppers

  • Blackberries

  • Blueberries

  • Cantaloupe

  • Carrots

  • Celery

  • Cherries

  • Corn

  • Cucumbers

  • Eggplant

  • Garlic

  • Green beans

  • Herbs

  • Honeydew melon

  • Lemons

  • Lima beans

  • Limes

  • Mangos

  • Okra

  • Peaches

  • Plums

  • Raspberries

  • Strawberries

  • Summer squash

  • Tomatillos

  • Tomatoes

  • Watermelon

  • Zucchini

Fall:

  • Apples

  • Bananas

  • Beets

  • Bell peppers

  • Broccoli

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Cabbage

  • Carrots

  • Cauliflower

  • Celery

  • Collard greens

  • Cranberries

  • Garlic

  • Ginger

  • Grapes

  • Green beans

  • Herbs

  • Kale

  • Kiwifruit

  • Lemons

  • Lettuce

  • Limes

  • Mangos

  • Mushrooms

  • Onions

  • Parsnips

  • Pears

  • Peas

  • Pineapples

  • Potatoes

  • Pumpkin

  • Radishes

  • Raspberries

  • Rutabagas

  • Spinach

  • Sweet potatoes and yams

  • Swiss chard

  • Turnips

  • Winter squash

Winter:

  • Apples

  • Avocados

  • Bananas

  • Beets

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Cabbage

  • Carrots

  • Celery

  • Collard greens

  • Grapefruit

  • Herbs

  • Kale

  • Kiwifruit

  • Leeks

  • Lemons

  • Limes

  • Onions

  • Oranges

  • Parsnips

  • Pears

  • Pineapples

  • Potatoes

  • Pumpkin

  • Rutabagas

  • Sweet potatoes and yams

  • Swiss chard

  • Turnips

  • Winter squash

Check out more nutrition tips from Cancer Wellness experts.

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