March 19, 2014
Looks like many of us may need a little extra push to eat more fruits and vegetables. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 24.7 percent of Americans meet the minimum intake requirement for fruits and vegetables (Blanck et al., 2008). While we may be careful to avoid foods linked to an increased risk for things like cardiovascular disease, obesity and even certain types of cancers, we are often slow to incorporate the healthier choices that can offer a protective effect against those conditions. While taste preferences and financial concerns are often cited as barriers to eating healthier, in-season produce may help your body (and wallet) live a bit healthier.
Peak Season Taste
If something doesn’t taste good—no matter how good it might be for us—we are unlikely to eat it. In-season fruit and vegetables are picked and sold during their peak of flavor. And, if delivered locally, transportation time can be minimized, which eliminates the need for preservation processes that can negatively impact flavor. Peak season produce is typically darker in color, firm and provides a great deal of flavor, especially in comparison to their out-of-season counterparts. Also, the bland taste of off-season produce may make us more likely to add things like salt, sugar, butter and sauces to enhance their flavor. And all these flavor additives can undermine our efforts to eat healthier.
Another perk in choosing local/in-season produce is its nutritional impact. Nutrients such as vitamin C are particularly fragile and once a fruit or vegetable is cut from its source, it begins losing vital components. In one study, researchers compared the vitamin C content in in-season broccoli (picked locally) with that of off-season broccoli (shipped from another country) and found that the off-season shipment contained only about half of the vitamin C found in the local, in-season variety (Wunderlich et al., 2008)
The Bottom Line
In addition to improving our health, eating in-season produce can be cost-effective and have a financial benefit to the local community. There’s a growing “locavore” movement, which involves a push to stimulate local economy by purchasing products from small, nearby suppliers. This ensures the freshest in-season produce at a price that doesn’t need to factor in storage and long-distance distribution. Neighborhood farmer’s markets are great places to check out fresh-picked produce with varieties that you’re not likely to find in large commercial supermarkets. You’ll be able to sample foods and purchase those that you really enjoy. Farmer’s markets are also great for encouraging little ones to try new foods and to begin instilling healthier eating habits to last a lifetime.
To learn what’s in season in your local area, check out this Seasonal Food Guide.
Gina Crome is a Registered Dietitian and ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Health Coach. She holds a dual Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology as well as a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from Loma Linda University whereby she received the Selma Andrews Award for Excellence and Professionalism. Over the past 20 years, Gina’s mission has focused on guiding individuals towards gaining a better quality of life. She has previously struggled with her own weight issues and has since lost a total of 172 pounds, driving her passion home to promote healthier lifestyles. Gina is available for media interviews and community appearances and she is the author of various online nutrition and fitness columns.