No matter where you live, each season brings an opportunity to feast on new fruits and vegetables. Taking advantage of locally grown seasonal foods makes for healthy eating and a healthy environment.
“One of the biggest advantages of seasonal eating is that these foods taste better,” says dietitian Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University. “A fall apple in New England, a tomato from New Jersey in summer, a Florida orange in winter — all are absolutely delicious.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends consuming at least five half-cup servings of fruits and vegetables every day. “Almost everyone needs to eat more fruits and vegetables than they do,” says Blake, who is also the author of the book Nutrition and You. Your diet should be heavy on fruits and vegetables because these foods are rich sources of many vitamins, minerals, and other natural substances that can protect you from diseases, including stroke, heart attack, and some cancers. If you’ve never been a fan of fruits and vegetables, sampling them when they’re in season, when they're at their flavor peak, may change your thinking.
Eating in Season Is Healthy Eating
According to Blake, the better taste of seasonal foods should make you want to eat more and should get you excited about incorporating them into your diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables are generally low in calories and fat — not to mention that if you eat more of them, you’re less likely to eat unhealthy foods, like potato chips and other snacks that are high in saturated fat, salt, and calories. Blake also points out that because seasonal foods have more vibrant flavors than prepackaged or out-of-season foods, you won’t need to fry them, add sugar, or use other less-than-healthy methods to enhance their flavor.
Another advantage of seasonal eating is that if the produce is grown locally, fuel doesn’t have to be wasted in trucking or flying it thousands of miles to the grocery store, making for more environmentally friendly shopping.
What to Try Each Season
Here’s a look at what fruits and vegetables are most likely to be available, by season. Use this list as a guide to healthier seasonal eating:
Spring: Artichokes, asparagus, green beans, honeydew melon, limes, lychees, mangoes, oranges, pineapple, spinach, sugar snap peas, and onions
Summer: Apricots, bell peppers, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherries, corn, cucumbers, grapes, honeydew melon, nectarines, plums, raspberries, strawberries, summer squash, tomatoes, watermelon, and zucchini
Fall: Acorn squash, apples, broccoli, cauliflower, cranberries, grapes, pears, sweet potatoes, turnips, and winter squash
Winter: Apples, Belgian endive, chestnuts, dates, grapefruit, kiwifruit, oranges, pears, persimmons, sweet potatoes, tangerines, turnips, and winter squash
When You Can’t Get Fresh
While foods in season are best, sometimes they’re not available (or they’re prohibitively expensive). That’s when you should reach into the freezer case, Blake says. “In the off season, I buy frozen berry mixes and cut-up mangoes. They’re flash-frozen when they’re at their peak, and they’re as good as if they came from the garden.”
Once you get into the habit of eating seasonally, you’ll enjoy the benefits of better-tasting food — and better nutrition.