Have you ever tasted a peach at the height of peach season? Can you imagine how sweet, juicy and delicious it tastes? How about fresh corn on the cob or a ripe Jersey tomato at peak times in the summer? Imagine the crispness of an apple in October. That crisp, fresh, undeniably wonderful flavor is what a fruit or a vegetable tastes like when it is ‘in season’ and fresh-picked just before you bite into it.
On the other hand; how about strawberries in January? Or apples or tomatoes in mid-winter? Dry, mealy, sort of tasteless and expensive to buy.
Eating fruits and vegetables in season is not only the best bet for taste; it is also the best way to get the utmost in nutrients from the food at the time of year when you need them as well as the most economical- for both you and the local farmers, environmentally conscious and the best way to limit your intake of harmful pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.
We may love that our local supermarket or Walmart can deliver us such a variety of fruits and vegetables any time of the year and yearn for our favorites when the season for them where we live is long over. There is literally a plethora of exotic fruits and vegetables to choose from any time of the year. But those dry tomatoes, bitter strawberries and mealy apples in the dead of January don’t deliver the same nutrients that they would if you ate the tomato fresh off the vine or strawberries in the summer off a farm or an apple fresh-picked in September.
The reason for this nutrient depletion It’s called “Food Miles” Fruits and vegetables in the supermarkets travel on average 1500 -2000 miles to get to the supermarket. Exotic fruits from Mexico or Chili travel even further. Chilean grapes can travel almost 6000 miles to that grocery shelf. They are picked, shipped and it can take almost a week before it even gets to sit on a supermarket shelf. You may purchase it about 4-5 days later and then it sits in your fridge for a week. Due to ‘food miles’ it is estimated that the average vegetable on the supermarket aisle has 5- 40% less minerals than what our grandparents ate off the farm 50 years ago. Research by Donald R. Davis shows that fruits and vegetables can lose anywhere from 15 -55% of their Vitamin C within a week after being harvested. Spinach can lose 90% of its Vitamin C within the first 24 hours of being picked! Supermarket green beans and peas lose 15- 77 % of their nutrients by the time we eat them and broccoli can lose up to 60 % of its nutrient and antioxidant content. A study (Ramberg and McAnnelley, 2002) discovered that in 1951 a woman could get all her daily requirements for Vitamin A by eating 2 peaches (fresh picked). An adult woman today purchasing off-season peaches in the supermarket would have to eat 53 of those peaches to get that same amount of Vitamin A. That lettuce in your fridge? It loses almost 50 % of its most important nutrients within 7 days. Nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are all on a rapid decline from the moment they get picked.
The bottom line- fruits and vegetables off your grocery shelf are not the same as fresh local grown and do not deliver the nutrients you may think you are getting. And if you don’t shop often, each day those veggies sit in your fridge means more nutrients are being lost.
Economics: Buying foods out of season means you are also paying a lot more for them. Out of season foods are more expensive for you to buy which puts a bite in your food budget. You don’t need to break the bank to eat healthy! Conserve your personal budget by purchasing local in season foods. Buying local fruits and vegetables means you are supporting that farm’s financial ability to bring you even more fresh fruits and vegetables. It helps farmers by giving them the resources to farm sustainably and naturally to bring you the freshest and the finest with the least amount of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. A USDA study found that direct to consumer producers were less likely to apply pesticides to control weeks and insects than Big Farm industry growers. Buying local creates local jobs that create resources to sustain local economies. It benefits your wallet, the farmers wallet and the local economy.
CSA: A great way for busy people to save time and money and get farm fresh daily local fruits and vegetables delivered to their doorstep is to join a CSA which stands for Community Supported Agriculture. There are tens of thousands of these across the country no matter where you live. A CSA is a system where you pay a farmer (or a group of farmers) a certain ‘subscription fee”. You receive fresh in season fruits and vegetables on an arranged schedule right to your doorstep. It’s easy to just do a google search of your local area to find one. It is also a good idea, if time allows, to visit the farm, ask questions about how they farm (specifically the use of pesticides) and make your decision on what is best and easiest for you. No more worry about a shopping trip to the grocery store and no more flat, dead food devoid of nutrients.
Top Spring and Summer Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables:
Here is a list of the freshest and best fruits and vegetables to look for in the upcoming months. Fresh picked and in season means you get the most nutrient packed fruits and vegetables and, even better, they TASTE good! Many supermarkets now brand certain sections as ‘Grown Local” so keep an eye out for that if you can’t get to a farm.
- Green Beans
- Bell Peppers
- Spring Peas
- Summer Squash
- Swiss Chard
- Passion Fruit
Your Health and Longevity: Why eat those 8 -13 servings of fresh vegetables and fruits every day? Fruits and vegetables supply our bodies with the vitamins, nutrients, minerals and antioxidants that fuel your energy, your health and your longevity.
Research from Tufts University found results to be ‘startling” when they looked at fruit and vegetable consumption and health risks and mortality. Of people who ate seven or more servings of vegetables per day compared to those eating less than one daily serving, the people who ate the most fruits and vegetables were 33% less likely to die of any cause. Their risk of death from heart disease was 31% lower and risk from cancer was 25% less. These benefits were more due to vegetables than fruits. Fruits, because of their sugar content (albeit natural sugar it is still a sugar and a carb) should be limited to no more than 3 or four servings.
Just as “mom always said’: Eat your fresh fruits and vegetables to stay healthy and live longer. Eat local and in season to get the most nutrients from the fruits and vegetables that you choose.
By: Cindy Luisi, WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach