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You may have heard the term ‘eat seasonally’ touted by nutrition experts, foodies, and chefs alike. But what does that mean, and what are the benefits to eating seasonal foods? Also, what are the benefits of consuming foods from this season – summer! We’ll discuss in this article.

Eating seasonally basically means including foods in your diet that are grown locally at the same time of year that you buy them. These days, due to importing/exporting practices and refrigerated transportation vehicles, we have an abundance of foods available from all over the world. This of course makes it easier to eat many foods, whether they are in season or not. However, there is more to eating seasonally than just a trendy term; there are many benefits to eating foods that are currently being grown and harvested.

More Cost Effective

Purchasing foods that are in season means that they are at the peak of supply, which ultimately costs less to produce and distribute, meaning they cost less once they get to the shelf of your grocery store or food market (or from the farmers themselves). With cost of living (especially food) at an all time high – who doesn’t want to save some hard earned dollars?

Healthier/Nutritionally Dense

Local, seasonal food is grown closer to you and it’s harvested and sold at the peak of its season. This gives a much higher chance that nutrient density will also be high, considering harvested foods can lose nutrients the more they are exposed to conditions such as light, air, oxygen and transportation. Foods in season within your own region can also help your body adapt to the environment (for example, providing more energy and antioxidants in summer months; fighting allergies in the spring; more immunity benefits in the fall and winter, etc.).

Support Your Local Economy

If you also buy local seasonal foods, you will have a better chance of getting foods that are fresh, more nutritious, and also support local businesses and farmers in your area. The more money that goes into the local economy is better for everyone in the community.

Taste

Taste is, of course, a huge component of eating. One of the best benefits of eating seasonally is that you get the tastiest food available. For similar reasons that contribute to the lower cost and nutrient density of seasonal food, also give it superior quality. The food is grown closer to you so it doesn’t spoil on its trip, it’s harvested at the peak of its season (ideally at the peak of freshness), and sold during its season, before it spoils. Ideally, this means you’re getting fruits and vegetables that haven’t had as much time to lose flavour or nutrients by thumping around in a shipping container for a trip across the land or seas.

Sustainability

Seasonal eating can be better for the environment, as foods grown locally require less energy and resources to produce and transport, thus reducing the carbon footprint.

Summer Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are low-calorie, fibre-rich, and nutrient dense. Everyone should be aiming to reach their recommended amount (about 7-10 one half cup servings) of fruits and vegetables for optimal health.

Since summer is in the air, and we’re talking about eating seasonal foods, here are just some of the delicious and nutritious summer harvest options, and a few of their benefits:

Blueberries

Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that research has shown are associated with cardiovascular and cognitive health as well as cancer and diabetes prevention. Because of the wide variety of bioactive compounds present in blueberries, studies conducted over the past decade have associated their consumption with preventing and slowing progression of various diseases. (1) They are also a source of Vitamin C and fibre.

Cherries

Sweet cherries are rich in beta carotene, vitamin C, anthocyanins and quercetin, which may work together synergistically to fight cancer. Tart cherries are one of nature’s few sources of melatonin, a hormone that lowers body temperature, making us sleepy. When study volunteers drank an ounce of tart cherry juice concentrate in the morning and again at night, they slept more soundly (2). Sweet cherries are loaded with potassium, a natural blood-pressure reducer. Potassium balances fluids in our bodies, essentially offsetting the blood-pressure-raising effects of sodium. One cup of cherries contains only 80 calories.

Watermelon

Although the refreshing summer fruit is approximately 94% water, it is still packed with health-promoting nutrients. As an excellent source of the strong antioxidant vitamin C, and other antioxidants, watermelon can help prevent cell damage, and combat the formation of free radicals known to cause cancer. It is also a source of vitamin A, B6, and C, and amino acids. Diets high in carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables such as watermelon are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. The lycopene levels in watermelon are similar to the levels in cooked tomatoes and a serving of watermelon has three times as much lycopene as a raw tomato – one of the highest lycopene contents of any fresh produce. (3)

Asparagus

Asparagus is an excellent source of folate, which helps to build new red blood cells and lowers the risk of having a baby with birth defects. It may also help reduce the risk of heart disease. Asparagus is also a source of vitamin A and vitamin C. One-half cup of cooked asparagus contains only 24 calories.

Broccoli

Broccoli has been known to benefit digestion, the cardiovascular system and the immune system, and to have anti-inflammatory and even cancer-preventing properties. It is also linked to lowering our risk for heart disease and stroke. Broccoli is rich in folate, vitamins C and K, and provide fibre, vitamin A and potassium. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, phytochemicals in broccoli are good for the immune system (4). Plus, broccoli is low in sodium and calories, at about 31 calories per serving.

Summer Squash

Yellow squash contains high concentrations of beta carotene and lutein. Beta carotene is an antioxidant that helps protect your body against damage from pollutants and chemicals called free radicals. Dietary lutein may help prevent the development of cataracts and the age-related eye condition – macular degeneration – which can lead to blindness. Iron and folate are commonly found in high concentrations in meat, eggs and other animal-derived foods. Yellow squash is an alternative vegetable source of these nutrients. Summer Squash is also high in Vitamin C, which helps your body to form collagen. Yellow squash is exceptionally low in calories, with 30 calories in a medium-sized vegetable.

Peas

Peas are an excellent source of many nutrients including fibre, vitamin K (found especially in fresh peas), manganese, folate, copper, and phosphorus. They’re also a good source of vitamins B6 and B2, niacin, molybdenum, zinc, protein, magnesium, iron, potassium, and choline. Green peas are a rich source of phytochemicals and flavonoids. Flavonoids are bioactive compounds that have shown links to many health benefits, such as lower risk of stroke, heart disease, better cognitive performance, and more. Peas are about 25.5% protein, and one half cup of cooked peas is about 70 calories.

1) Neto CC. Cranberry and blueberry: evidence for protective effects against cancer and vascular diseases. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007;51(6):652-664. Available from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/mnfr.200600279/full
2) Howatson, Glyn, et al. “Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality.” European journal of nutrition 51.8 (2012): 909-916. Available from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00394-011-0263-7
3) Dietary factors. Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center website. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors
4) American Institute for Cancer Research. Available from: http://www.aicr.org/reduce-your-cancer-risk/diet/elements_phytochemicals.html

Felicia Newell
About the Author

Felicia Newell is a Registered Dietitian (RD), Nutritionist, and Health Coach. She is also the owner of Sustain Nutrition, and helps clients from all around the globe fight through the misinformation in the online world, and master their health goals in a way that also allows them to also enjoy life. After many years in practice and through extensive research, Felicia knows that the ‘restrictive dieting’ technique never works long-term, and she takes the realistic approach of the ‘80/20 rule’, as well as working with clients to find the specific strategies that work best for them. You can download her FREE Meal Planning Starter Kit to help get you on your way to crushing your health and wellness goals.

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