Eat Healthier When You Eat With the Seasons

Seasons form a natural backdrop for eating. We look forward to apples and gourds, pumpkins and squash in the fall, local strawberries and fresh ears of corn in the summer. But there are practical and healthy reasons to celebrate foods that are in season. That’s when you get the most flavor and nutritional value. It’s also the time when it is the most affordable. Additionally, you’ll enjoy the greatest freshness when you look for foods that are both locally grown and are in season.

All of the world’s healthiest foods are seasonal. For ecologists, seasons are considered a source of natural diversity. Changes in growing conditions from spring to summer or fall to winter are considered essential for balancing the earth’s resources and its life forms. But today it’s so easy for us to forget about seasons when we eat. Modern food processing, high-tech storage and worldwide distribution networks make foods available year-round, and grocery stores shelves look much the same in December as they do in July. And with the growth of supermarkets and an ever-widening smorgasbord of imported food, the link between what we eat and when it’s in season has almost disappeared.

Consequently, nutritionists and environmentalists are increasingly concerned that what we gain in choice and convenience we lose in health benefits, leading to a call for a movement back towards seasonal eating. Food that’s in season not only tastes better, but may contain ingredients that suit the body’s needs for that time of year, such as summer fruits with their high fluid content.

In a research study conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in London, England, significant differences were found in the nutrient content of pasteurized milk in summer versus winter. Iodine was higher in the winter; beta-carotene was higher in the summer. The Ministry discovered that these differences in milk composition were primarily due to differences in the diets of the cows. With more salt-preserved foods in winter and more fresh plants in the summer, cows ended up producing nutritionally different milks during the two seasons. Similarly, researchers in Japan found three-fold differences in the vitamin C content of spinach harvested in summer versus winter.

A guide for eating seasonally

To enjoy the full nourishment of food, you must make your menu a seasonal one. In different parts of the world, and even in different regions of one country, seasonal menus can vary. But here are some established principles you can follow to ensure optimal nourishment in every season:

  • In spring, focus on tender, leafy vegetables that represent the fresh new growth of this season. The greening that occurs in springtime should be represented by greens on your plate, including Swiss chard, spinach, Romaine lettuce, fresh parsley, and basil.
  • In summer, stick with light, cooling foods in the tradition of traditional Chinese medicine. These foods include fruits like strawberries, apples, pears, and plums; vegetables like summer squash, broccoli, cauliflower, and corn; and spices and seasonings like peppermint and cilantro.
  • In fall, turn toward the more warming, autumn harvest foods, including carrots, sweet potatoes, onions and garlic. Also emphasize the more warming spices and seasonings including ginger, peppercorns, and mustard seeds.
  • In winter, turn even more exclusively toward warming foods. Remember the principle that foods taking longer to grow are generally more warming than foods that grow quickly. All of the animal foods fall into the warming category including fish, chicken, beef, lamb and venison. So do most of the root vegetables, including carrot, potato, onions, and garlic. Eggs also fit in here, as do corn and nuts.

In all seasons, be creative! Let the natural backdrop of spring, summer, fall and winter be your guide.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!