On the surface, eating seasonally seems pretty basic: Eat more of whatever fruits and vegetables are in season at that moment. But look closer and it’s full of benefits like more nutritious food, a lower grocery bill, and less pollution.
You Get More Nutrients
When you’re consuming out-of-season produce, it means that food has either been imported, or it’s been chemically manipulated to grow despite the unfavorable local weather. In both cases, produce has to undergo numerous processes and post-harvest treatments to meet global demand while ensuring year-round availability, quantity, and appropriate shelf life.
From ripening agents to refrigeration, from chemical coatings to gaseous treatments, there’s a lot that goes on in the long process of transporting produce from the land to our grocery stores. Though there are strict regulations that ensure food safety and minimize waste, sometimes food quality is not a guarantee.
In two separate studies, researchers found that bananas that were artificially ripened with different chemicals had lower levels of vitamin C and lower levels of protein compared to bananas that had ripened naturally.
Thus, seasonal produce is more nutritionally dense than the off-season options. And if you’ve ever experienced the disappointment of eating a tasteless tomato or a bland pineapple, you’re familiar with the lack of flavor that comes with out-of-season fruits and vegetables. Garden owners will know how much more flavorful locally grown and organic food really is.
Your Body Gets What It Needs
Another perk of eating seasonal produce is that it supports your body’s natural needs. Take citrus fruits: They grow in the winter and they’re high in vitamin C, which is essential to support our immunity in the fight against colds and the flu. Stone fruits, on the other hand, grow in the summer andare high in betacarotene, which helps protect us against sun damage.
Now while we certainly can’t say that’s by design or any such thing, it’s pretty neat that indulging in the freshest offerings gives your body a little boost at the time of year that boost is most beneficial. Thanks, Mother Nature.
Have you ever noticed that pineapples are cheaper in the summer and grapefruits are cheaper in the winter?
It’s basic economics on your side: in-season produce is grown in massive quantities to take advantage of ideal growing conditions. This, in turn, means there are fewer production costs, and there’s room for local farmers to contribute to the food supply. As a result, you pay less for fresh produce while also giving back to your community. Even when you’re purchasing in-season produce that’s grown somewhere outside of your local agricultural climate—like buy a big box of grapefruit shipped from Florida when you live in Maine—you’re still eating fresh and paying less for it if you buy it in season.
It’s More Environmentally Sustainable
Speaking of buying produce from a distant location, something that’s not often considered is the distance that off-season produce has to travel before it reaches our local supermarkets. Not only does the entire process bear high costs, but it also bears a high environmental impact. When you live somewhere that particular produce just isn’t grown, it is what it is, but during the time of year where you can buy carrots or peaches grown right outside your city (instead of all the way across the country or even across the ocean), you’re not just saving money, you’re cutting down on the carbon footprint of that food.
In 2019 alone, U.S. imports of fresh vegetables totaled $9.07 billion, a number that’s been steadily increasing over the last few years. Eating seasonally can help lower the demand, supporting the local economy, sustainability, and reducing your carbon footprint.
How to Find Out Which Produce Is in Season
If you’re now wondering which fruits and vegetables you should be buying right now, check out SeasonalFoodGuide.org. It’s a handy website that tells you which produce is in season in your area while also giving information about their seasonality.
Alternatively, the American Heart Association has a helpful infographic to help you shop seasonally. You can save it on your phone, bookmark the webpage, or even print it to keep it always on hand when you head out to do the groceries.
Eating seasonally can help support your health while also making you a more conscious consumer—it benefits you, as well as those around you. While it’s not always possible to eat seasonally or locally, when you can, you (and your wallet) will benefit!