Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Health Benefits of Eating Seasonally

As we head into Spring and the growing season we'll be starting to see early salads, rhubarb and other seasonal vegetables start to supplement the winter roots of leeks, parsnips and squashes and become more prominent in our supermarkets and on menus.

The idea of eating seasonally is becoming re-accepted into our society as the years go by and this is only a good thing. I say "re-accepted" because while it was only a couple of generations ago that people were more in touch with the seasons and the food it brought, as supermarkets made all manner of exotic fruits and vegetables available to us all year round and fewer people grew their own, the sense of when something was "in season" got a bit lost. So why should it matter what we eat when?

It's no news that the sooner that food is eaten after harvest the high it's nutritional content, reducing our need for supplements. But freezing, canning and other preserving methods help to combat this and I'm certainly not suggesting that those sorts of foods are bad for you. However there's a theory that we often prefer lighter, fresher foods in the hotter months and more substantial warming foods in cooler times because the body is more in need of and better at processing certain foods at certain times. The more efficient the body is at processing food the better.
My allotment
I'm fortunate enough to have a few pots outside the house and a half plot allotment that is mostly given over to things that can fend for themselves. The three rhubarb crowns I've got there are springing into life and I know I'll have a glut soon. Crumbles and compotes are the order of the day and I'll be able to ring the changes with my breakfast smoothies. Since I've been dabbling in growing my own I've noticed that fruit and veg eaten in season just tastes better. And knowing that something is at it's best for a limited period of time also encourages me to make the best of it. I use carrots all year round in soups, stews and curries but the ones I've grown myself, the first of the season, I eat with an uncomplicated dip or lightly cooked with herb butter so I can really taste them. I look forward to the summer and the strawberries that smell of strawberries rather than of nothing. I make hollandaise once a year specifically to dip asparagus into. It makes me happy, which is a huge health benefit in itself.
Growing tomatoes upside down - space saving!
Keeping chard fresh on the windowsill
But eating with the seasons also means that you get more variety in your diet which means you'll have a greater range of nutrients in the body. It's more beneficial than eating the same things all the time, reducing the likelihood of food allergies and intolerances.
Most supermarket magazines will have a feature on seasonal produce and accompanying recipe ideas but if you're in the UK this site is also quite handy. At the time of writing the following are among the things in season:
  • cauliflower
  • celeriac
  • jerusalem artichoke
  • kale
  • leeks
  • parsnips
  • purple sprouting broccoli
  • spinach
  • spring onions
  • swede
  • wild nettles
  • rhubarb
So next time you go food shopping, think about buying something that's in season and maybe try a new recipe that uses it as the star. Your body will benefit.

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