As the summer harvest starts to transition into Autumn a whole new set of fruits and veggies become available to us. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still enjoying all the late-summer produce available, like heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, and blackberries, but I’m also now starting to look forward to the bounty of Autumn; apples, pears, and butternut squash. Truly, nature provides us with such delicious food.
When you get used to eating fresh whole foods in season it becomes really obvious how bland, flavorless, and devoid of life-giving energy processed foods really are.
One of the challenges of living in our global marketplace, where pretty much any food we desire is at our fingertips all year long, is that we forget which foods are actually in season and at their peak ripeness and nutritiousness. The more you stick to your local farm stands and farmers’ markets the more in tune with seasonal food you become.
But let’s review why we should care about eating in season and take a look at the fruits and vegetables that will be coming into their glory over the next three months.
Concerns with Eating Out of Season
In order to survive the cross-continental transport food is picked before it is ripe and then ripens in transit. When a food is not allowed to ripen on the vine or branch or in the soil it is not going to have an optimal nutritional value. Specifically, the level of phytonutrients will be much lower.
Remember from my blog post on Inflammation, phytonutrients are the special plant compounds, beyond vitamins and minerals, that provide disease fighting protection. Also, some nutrients, like vitamin C, folate, or carotenes will start to degrade the longer a food is stored.
Out of season produce will often be gassed, irradiated, and/or preserved in wax to help extend it’s shelf life. And when fruits and vegetables are sourced overseas you can’t be sure what their regulations for pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are.
Many countries across the globe have very relaxed laws about chemicals being sprayed on fruits and vegetables. And some agricultural areas have very high levels of heavy metals and other toxins in their soil due to nearby industrial sites.
So essentially when we eat food that is not in season, not only are we getting less nutritional value from that food, it’s not going to taste as good, and there is a much higher likelihood of chemical contamination.
Benefits of Eating In Season
There is also something to be said for waiting all year for the perfect tomato. Nothing compares with a vine-ripened tomato, freshly picked, in the summer heat. I’m definitely taking advantage of those tomatoes and getting my fill because once they’re no longer locally available I will wait all year for them to come again. This act of practicing delayed gratification helps us be more appreciative and grateful for when we do get to enjoy our favorite foods.
So to summarize, when we eat our food in season we get the following benefits:
- Tastes Best
- More Nutritious
- Less Expensive
- More Environmentally Friendly
- More in Tune with the Needs of Our Body During That Time of Year
Guidelines for Eating Seasonally
To enjoy the full nourishment of your food, I suggest creating a seasonal menu. This way you take full advantage of the foods in season and it cultivates anticipation for what’s coming up in the next season.
I have certain foods each season that I adore and literally look forward to all year:
- asparagus and strawberries in the spring
- tomatoes and berries in the summer
- apples and butternut squash in the fall
- tangerines and winter greens in the winter.
The fact that I have to wait several seasons to eat them again makes them all the more enjoyable to me.
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, apple, pear, and plum; 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 carrot, sweet potato, onions, and garlic. Also emphasize the more warming spices and seasonings including ginger, peppercorns, and mustard seeds as the weather starts to get cooler.
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, and lamb. So do most of the root vegetables, including carrot, potato, onions and garlic. Eggs also fit in here, as do nuts.
Let’s look at the foods that are in season right now (September – November) in the northern hemisphere. The availability of course will vary a bit from region to region but in general these are the fruits and vegetables you will find in abundance this time of year. Each of these glorious foods have their own set of health benefits and delicious ways to be prepared.
Apples, Cranberries, Kiwi, Limes, Melon, Pears, Persimmons, Plums, Pomegranates, Raspberries, Tangerines, Tomatoes
Artichokes, Beets, Beet Greens, Bell Peppers, Broccoli, Broccolini, Brussels Sprouts, Butternut Squash, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery Root, Chard, Collards, Corn, Eggplant, Fennel, Garlic, Leeks, Parsnips, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Radishes, Rutabaga, Spinach, Sunchokes, Sweet Potatoes, Turnips, Wild Mushrooms, Winter Squash (all varieties — acorn, delicata, kobucha, spaghetti, etc.)
Check out the following guides to see what’s in season right now where you live!
USA: Seasonal Food Guide
Canada: Foodland Ontario
United Kingdom: Eat the Seasons
Australia: Seasonal Food Guide
Yummy recipe ideas for Autumn: Cooking Light