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Eating for the Season

Eating for the Season

Celebrate foods that are in season because that is when you get the most flavor and nutritional value and when it is the most affordable. For the greatest freshness look for foods that are locally grown and are in season.

Seasons form the natural backdrop for eating. Imagine a vegetable garden in the dead of winter. Now imagine this same garden on a sunny, summer day. How different things are during these two seasons of the year! For ecologists, seasons are considered a source of natural diversity. Changes in growing conditions from spring to summer or fall to winter are considered essential for balancing the earth's resources and its life forms. But today it's so easy for us to forget about seasons when we eat! Modern food processing and worldwide distribution of food make foods available year-round, and grocery stores shelves look much the same in December as they do in July.

Research Supporting Seasonal Eating

In a research study conducted in 1997 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in London, England, significant differences were found in the nutrient content of pasteurized milk in summer versus winter. Iodine was higher in the winter; beta-carotene was higher in the summer. The Ministry discovered that these differences in milk composition were primarily due to differences in the diets of the cows. With more salt-preserved foods in winter and more fresh plants in the summer, cows ended up producing nutritionally different milks during the two seasons. Similarly, researchers in Japan found three-fold differences in the vitamin C content of spinach harvested in summer versus winter.

Guides for Eating Seasonally

What does this mean for you? Eat seasonally! To enjoy the full nourishment of food, you must make your menu a seasonal one. In different parts of the world, and even in different regions of one country, seasonal menus can vary. But here are some overriding principles you can follow to ensure optimal nourishment in every season:

  • 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 chardspinachRomaine lettuce, fresh parsley, and basil.
  • In summer, stick with light, cooling foods in the tradition of traditional Chinese medicine. These foods include fruits like strawberriesapplepear, and plum; vegetables like summer squashbroccolicauliflower, and corn; and spices and seasonings like peppermintand cilantro.
  • In fall, turn toward the more warming, autumn harvest foods, including carrotsweet potatoonions, and garlic. Also emphasize the more warming spices and seasonings including gingerpeppercorns, and mustard seeds.
  • 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 fishchickenbeef, and lamb. So do most of the root vegetables, including carrotpotatoonions and garlicEggs also fit in here, as do corn and nuts.

In all seasons, be creative! Let the natural backdrop of spring, summer, fall and winter be your guide.

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