As a nutritionist, summer is one of my favorite times of the year! I love the variety of seasonal vegetables and fruits available at your local farmer’s market! There, you’ll find wonderful ingredients to create and enjoy delicious and nutritious meals for you and your family. It’s a great time of year to experiment with new ingredients. There are so many different ways to eat, but one of the easiest is to eat in season. Let’s break down why eating in season is best.
Seasonal = Nutrient Density
When you walk into a grocery store you usually see produce galore, stacked on top of each other. Let’s take a moment and think about where this fruit was picked and how long it took to get to the store. Then, think about how long it’s been sitting in the store’s coolers. It usually takes at least a couple of days, if not weeks, for produce to be shipped to all of the different grocery stores. In other words, once it is picked, it’s either shipped by plane, train, truck or boat. Since out-of-season produce may be shipped from thousands of miles away, it ends up losing some of its key nutrients! In fact, the moment the produce is picked it begins losing its nutrients. Many of the nutrients in the produce are not stable and begin to break down even after a few hours let alone a few days. So, buying produce as soon as possible after it’s been picked means that you get the most vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals possible!
Over here at My Kitchen Shrink headquarters, we’re all about sustaining and maintaining a healthy gut! And we can actually do this by eating our produce! In fact, much of our produce comes with good bacteria on it that helps to “feed” the probiotics or “good” bugs already in our digestive tract. The extra bulk and fiber we get from veggies and fruit like kale and apples helps us move out the not- so- great bacteria in our bodies! Other types of produce create great food sources or “prebiotics” so the good bugs can eat and continue to thrive!
Seasonal = Community
When you buy produce in-season, especially from the Farmer’s Market, you are making a direct connection with the person or people who have cultivated your food! That is such an amazing connection to make. I love to know who is planting and harvesting my food! To know that these people dedicate their lives to providing food to people is amazing! Get to know your farmer. You’re not just nourishing yourself physically but also emotionally and spiritually! Plus – local farmers love to get to know you too!
Seasonal = Less Expensive
When foods are bought out of season, the cost to get them into a store near you will increase the price! However, when you eat in season and buy locally, you not only reduce the carbon footprint, but as you eat more green locally, you save more green too! This means the produce was grown locally in its natural weather and climate conditions using less energy, less transit time and that comes with a cheaper price tag! It’s a win-win situation!
Seasonal = Variety
When you choose to eat seasonally, you are choosing variety which offers a huge nutrition bonus! Eating a variety of different produce offers a wide range of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Not to mention, as we start to eat foods on more of a seasonal basis, we’ll be exploring new foods that come with new flavors. This gives our taste buds something new to contemplate. There are also plenty of ways to cook and serve different produce producing endless ideas.
Seasonal = The YUM! Factor
If you’ve ever picked up a strawberry at a grocery store when it’s not in season and tasted it (c’mon, we know you’ve taste-tested in the store before), you will notice a HUGE difference in texture and flavor when you try a fresh picked berry! Off-season strawberries lack flavor and vibrancy. They are never as juicy or sweet as they are when picked fresh. Choosing to eat in-season means being able to eat produce picked at its peak when it is bursting with flavor. This goes for any fruit or veggie. This is so important when exposing kids to new foods and flavors. When they taste a fresh, tasty fruit or vegetable, not only will it be a positive experience, but their bodies will reap the greatest benefits and nutrition!
Seasonal = Whole
My rule of thumb about food is- if it’s made in a factory- it needs to be broken down in a factory. The great thing about a farmer’s market is it’s the farthest thing from a factory! It’s the closest thing to your backdoor! I love that you can walk into a farmer’s market knowing that you will find whole foods there. Bunches of crisp Swiss Chard and dark green leafy kale along with fragrant berries, peaches and apples spring to my mind. Sure, there are vendors selling bread, honey and other things. But the fresh fruits and veggies are what get my taste buds dancing! There is something about eating whole real foods that allows our bodies to let their defenses down to relax, digest and absorb what it needs.
Ask yourself the following questions to determine if the foods you plan to eat are whole:
Does it grow?
It’s easy to picture a growing peach, apple tree or a field of kale. It is tough, however, to picture a field of growing isolated pea protein, a stream of soda or a tree of chocolate chips. Get the picture?
What are the ingredients?
Whole real foods are just that—one ingredient—no nutrition facts label on pears, salmon or a bunch of kale.
Has the food been modified since it was picked or harvested?
Many foods have been stripped of vital nutrients through bleaching, hydrogenation, chemical treatments or irradiation—virtually having the life sucked right out of them. Read the list of ingredients on the label. If you can’t pronounce the words or visualize the ingredient growing, then don’t eat it. Or go with this motto: when in doubt, leave it out. If it’s been created in a factory or processed then buyer beware.
Is this food only part of or is it the whole?
When you consume only part of a food such as the juice from an apple, your body in its natural body wisdom will crave the parts it didn’t get.
So let’s talk about how to navigate your local Farmer’s Market. Depending on your preference, I find there are two best times to go to the farmers market. I personally don’t find it enjoyable to shop when there are a ton of people. So, I either go first thing in the am or when it’s winding down. The great thing about when you go early is getting the first pick. The great thing about going later in the afternoon or just before it closes is that the local vendors are willing to offer discounts.
Shop with a plan. Why? It’s two-fold. It keeps you on track and while you’re buying green, it also keeps green in your pocket. It can be easy to get carried away with all the yummy goodness at the farmers market, and then not know what to do with it. Throwing out wilted or rotten produce is a shame. Find a couple of new seasonal recipes, write down the ingredients needed and note what you can pick up at the market.
All in all, when fruits and veggies are at their peak ripeness and full of vital nutrients and phytochemicals, you benefit the most. Try mixing your fruits and veggies to create vibrant nutritious seasonal dishes. For example, I’ll add peaches, tomatoes and red onions together to make a salad and add in some fresh basil and olive oil. Or, I’ll grab a big bowl of mixed greens and throw in some berries (strawberries, blackberries or blueberries work well) and drizzle some balsamic vinegar on top. There are so many ways to mix and match fruits and veggies - the options are endless! Enjoy your summer eats and let us know in the comments below your favorite tips for increasing seasonal nutrition into your life!
Please visit me for more fresh food ideas and recipes at http://www.mykitchenshrink.com.
Elyse Wagner, MS is a nutritionist, health psychology expert and whole foodie! She earned her undergraduate degree in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her dual masters’ degree in nutrition and clinical health psychology at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington.
To learn how to live a F.A.B. live contact Elyse at www.mykitchenshrink.com or 847.772.7102