Nutrition Articles

Seasonal Foods

Exceptional Flavor & Nutrition that Fits in Your Budget

514SHARES
You ate them in February, from half a continent away, and they were flat and bland—passable, but nothing to write home about. Now, you take a bite from one grown half a mile away, and it’s spectacular—sweet, juicy, and flavorful.

We’re talking in this particular instance about tomatoes, but we could say the same thing about any of a dozen produce items you’ll find at your local farmer’s market now. 'Tis the season to eat fresh, as the tender new growth of spring ripens into the rich abundance of summer. So why settle for "so-so" when you can savor the sensational? Consider the benefits of eating foods at the peak of their season. Seasonal foods…
  • serve up the most flavor.
  • pack the biggest nutritional punch.
  • boost your budget.
  • are  tied to the special days and seasons of our lives: sweet, luscious watermelon paired with the memory of fireflies and fireworks; fragrant hearty soups that temper winter’s chill; sweet young vegetables that accompany spring’s first warm day.
As consumers today, we’re very lucky in some respects. The crisscross networks of our global village provide things our ancestors could only dream about, such as oranges in December. On the other hand, as we shed our rural roots, we tend to lose sight of the seasonal rhythm of life, relying heavily on processed foods and a worldwide distribution system that makes our grocery shelves look pretty much the same year-round. The out-of-season produce we buy has often traversed 1,000 miles or more by the time it reaches our kitchens—with a corresponding loss of flavor and nutrition and an increase in wax coatings, chemical ripening agents, and other preservatives.

But locally-grown seasonal foods often harmonize with our nutritional needs. For example, the beta carotene in the orange pigment of pumpkins and other squash will help bolster your immune system just in time to help ward off winter colds. And the oils of nuts—fats in their purest form—will provide nutrient-rich calories that help keep you warm as the temperature drops.

In fact, recent research shows that eating seasonally may have major health implications. A British study in 1997 found significant differences in the nutritional contents of pasteurized milk in summer as opposed to winter: iodine was higher in the winter, while beta-carotene (an antioxidant and immune system booster that helps the body create vitamin A) was higher in the summer. Similarly, a Japanese study found a three-fold difference in the vitamin C content of spinach harvested in summer versus that harvested in winter.


In practical terms, this means that you’ll get the most nutrition—not to mention the most affordable enjoyment—by eating seasonally. Although the exact season for specific items varies from region to region (you’ll almost certainly get that big beefsteak tomato much earlier in Georgia than in Ohio), follow these basic guidelines for optimal nutrition and taste:
  • In spring, pick the new growth of the season: tender leafy vegetables such as spinach, Romaine or leaf lettuces, Swiss chard, and early peas, as well as fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, and dill.
  • For summer, try lighter produce, with fruits such as strawberries, pears, apples, and plums, and vegetables such as summer squash, broccoli, corn, and cauliflower. You can also incorporate other summer-type herbs, such as mint or cilantro.
  • During fall, choose hearty harvest foods, including sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic. When cooking, emphasize “warmer” spices and seasonings such as peppercorns, ginger, and mustard seeds.
  • In winter, also pick hearty foods. Keep in mind the principle that foods which take longer to grow are generally more sustaining than foods that grow quickly. In this category are most root vegetables, including carrots, potatoes, onions and garlic, as well as eggs, corn, and nuts.
As you choose the best foods of the season, remember that the healthiest and most enjoyable diet involves diversity. Although you may have to compromise sometimes due to convenience and time constraints, try as much as possible to make food shopping and cooking an adventure, something you can enjoy or share with family members. Try these tips to enhance the journey:
  • Focus on the fresh, minimizing the use of prepared foods as much as possible. When you must use prepared foods, make an effort to embellish them with one or more fresh ingredients.
  • Pick a new produce item to try every week, whether the neglected rutabaga or the tropical mango.
  • Cook at least one new dish each week, and look for recipes that will help you get acquainted with new ingredients. You can subscribe to a food magazine, plug in keywords on the Internet, or even swap new recipes with friends. Since food writers generally base their topics and menus on the foods of the season, take advantage of their offerings to reward yourself with wholesome, tasty meals.
  • Experiment with regional or ethnic dishes. Most regional cuisines, developed in horse-and-buggy times, used local ingredients close by. Exploring new foods will keep mealtime both interesting and healthy.
  • Don’t forget to take advantage of the useful food information your grocer provides. Whether you consult those little description cards that hang above specific fruits and veggies, or hold a friendly discussion with the produce manager on how to peel the leaves of an artichoke, you’ll find a wealth of ideas about preparing food.
Let the backdrop of the seasons be your guide to happy and healthy eating—you’ll find that Mother Nature does indeed know best!

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Page 1 of 1  
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!
514SHARES

Member Comments

  • This only makes sense. When produce is in season i's going to be cheaper; not to mention the freshness of the produce.
  • Something good all year long!
  • Again, a reminder of things known and conveniently forgotten.
  • LCERTUCHE
    This is a really great article and people who believe they can't afford to eat healthy seasonal produce is the ticket.
  • This is a nice article but the "Farmer's Markets" in our area are all commercialized. The venders there go to the warehouses that all the grocery stores use and then sell the stuff as home grown. There is a huge difference is vegetables commercially grown and those home grown. We do have some roadside stands that I do buy from.

    The thing to do is to make sure you are getting actual home grown foods and not those from a warehouse or green house.
  • This is my ninth year planting my garden and I enjoy everyday of getting out there taking care of my garden. I love when it come to canning them. I enjoy looking at them in the jar. They look so pretty and I stack them in order so when I go to get something to cook I know where everything is. In order.
  • Just this morning my chiropractor talked about his favorite place to pick blueberries-- the only organic blueberry farm in the area. They are a small farm and don't spend the money to get certified, but they assure people they don't use pest sprays or manufactured fertilizers. And my C. swears they are bigger and tastier than anything he has ever tasted. A great testimony for all things good, local, with your own hand involved in someway, even if it's picking 15 pounds on a spring morning.
  • DIANASHOTKO
    While the article was good, it lacked some detail.

    I found a great article that lists in-seson produce, month-by-month.
    http://www.wise
    bread.com/fre
    sh-fruits-and
    -vegetables-by-the-month
  • I love the writer's style and concur perfectly with her thinking. Totally inspiring,
    informative and easy to read.
  • TRACYPROSE
    This is a great article for people like me that have never been fruit and vegetable eaters because it tells you what is in season when. My husband and I were just discussing this morning that we had no clue what is in season when as we both fit in this category. However, my Publix pharmacist is working with me and wants me on an all natural or organic diet. Therefore, I needed to learn these things. Thank you for this article.
  • What a great article. I have a couple of suggestions. Buy tangerines. In most stores you can find them in bags. They are a great portable snack, easy to peel and taste great. Also, find a vegetable on sale that you've never had before and try it in a recipe. You may find a hidden winner for you.
  • Enjoyed completely, with fruits and vegetables coming in season, this article helps a lot. I have already started looking for recipes and where farmers' markets are in my area. Thanks for the good word.... Michele142
  • I think this is overall a great article and will help me as I am learning how to cook for the first time. One thing I wish it had mentioned, however, is to utilize your local farmer's markets, not just the grocery store. They definitely have fresh produce that is in season, plus it puts money back into your own community. Just a thought.
  • I'm getting ready to start my 2011 garden! Fresh peppers and tomatoes! And I don't even have a backyard. Container gardens work great.
  • I think it's funny that this article both tells us to by in season and then also says to try tropical mangoes, which aren't really in season anywhere in the states. I'm pretty sure the mangoes in our grocery stores come from Mexico or somewhere else out of country. (Tho, I don't have anything against mangoes...in fact, I love them!)

About The Author

Rebecca Pratt Rebecca Pratt
A freelance writer who contributes to various newspapers and magazines, Becky loves covering ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

x Lose 10 Pounds by September 3! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.