Fall is here, and with it, many of our favorite fruits and vegetables come to harvest. Eating seasonal produce makes sure that we are eating fruits and vegetables when they provide the most optimal nutrition. Our ancestors ate this way for thousands of years as a means of survival. Over the past century, advances in technology and transportation have made it possible for us to have access to most types of produce throughout the year, regardless of when they are typically in season. Grocery stores sell greenhouse grown strawberries in the middle of winter and broccoli all year round. Increased access to produce means we are eating more foods grown outside of their natural harvest time. While it is certainly ok to eat off-season fruits and vegetables that have been shipped to your supermarket, there are significant advantages to eating seasonal fresh and local produce when you can.
Eating what is in season has some important health benefits. Here are just a few of the reasons why eating the seasons is good for you, your local community and our world:
Flavor – Food produced and harvested in peak season tastes better. The color, texture, juiciness, and authenticity of a tomato picked from your garden during peak season will taste much better than a tomato purchased at your grocer in the middle of winter.
Nutrition – Food allowed to fully ripen in the sun and grow naturally is packed with more antioxidants and nutrients than produce grown outside of the natural growing season.
Cost – It is as simple as supply and demand. As fall foods like zucchini, pumpkin, and tomatoes, reach their peak growing season, supply is plentiful. Farmers and merchants often sell large bushels of harvested foods inexpensively. Many vegetables can be prepped and frozen for later use or can be canned.
Support local farmers – Eating what is in season also means more opportunity to support your local farmers. Local farmers provide exposure to unique produce not commonly found in grocery stores.
Better for the environment – Food grown in season does not require nearly as many resources to harvest as produce grown out of season. Seasonal food requires fewer pesticides and lower fossil fuel consumption that comes from transporting food from distant locations to your table.
This month, commit to eating locally available foods! Fall is the ideal time to start developing this healthy habit because there is an abundance of local produce available. Here are just a few fall stars that you can easily incorporate into your meals!
Pumpkins – You cannot NOT eat pumpkin right now because it is in EVERYTHING. Whether the pumpkin dominance at the grocery store is a like or not, pumpkin does offer you many nutritional qualities. It is very high in Vitamin A, a sometime hard to find nutrient that supports immunity. Who could not use a little more immunity right now!? Pumpkin is also rich in vitamin C, potassium, copper, manganese, vitamin B2, vitamin E and iron. You really cannot go wrong here. Besides being packed with vitamins and minerals, pumpkin is also low in calories, has a high water content (ie…it fills you up) and is high in fiber.
Tomatoes – Tomatoes are fruit but are often thought of as a vegetable due to their use in savory cooking. Tomatoes are one of the most common food items used globally, for a good reason! Tomatoes are easy to cultivate and extremely versatile. Slightly sweet, juicy, and full of flavor, tomatoes brighten any dish and contain an abundance of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, potassium, and iron.
Cucumbers – The crisp, cool properties of cucumbers keep you hydrated and protect against aging, neurological disease, and can even reduce pain. Many of the vitamins and minerals found in cucumbers are found in the dark green peel, so save time and improve nutritional value by leaving the peel on your cukes!
Escarole and other leafy greens – Look beyond traditional lettuce varieties and try this leafy chicory green. Escarole is versatile. It can be used raw as an alternative to romaine or spinach and can be braised, grilled, or used in soup. This bitter green also pairs well with fruit and is packed with folate, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and calcium.
The FDA offers guidance about properly washing produce prior to eating it:
Wash your hands with soap and water before and after preparing fresh produce.
Cut away the damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
To wash produce, gently rub it while holding it under plain running water. There’s no need to use soap or a produce wash, but you may choose to use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce such as melons and cucumbers.
Wash Rinse produce BEFORE you peel it.
Featured Recipe: Vegetable Tosadas