Seasonal Eating

Have you ever heard this concept of “seasonal eating” mentioned and wondered what it’s all about? Have you ever heard a health coach talk about the importance of eating seasonally for a balanced diet and overall health or been to a restaurant that boasts a seasonal, local menu and been curious about what the point is? Well, in recent years I have done some research on seasonal eating; enough to know that eating seasonally is something we should all strive to practice a bit more than we currently do. Now, I am by no means an expert on eating seasonally, I’m really just an explorer on the subject, but I know enough to give you a brief background on the idea of seasonal eating and provide you with a direction of how to eat more seasonally.

The most basic definition of seasonal eating refers to eating fruits and vegetables at their peak time of harvest for the best level of freshness, flavor and nutritional benefits. Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga that focuses on the importance of balanced and seasonal eating, tells us that we should eat the fruits and vegetables that naturally come into harvest in each season. Why? The belief, and there is evidence to back this all up, is that the Earth provides us with the produce that our bodies need to be most sustained in each season.

Need an example? Okay, let’s take summer for instance. Think about the fruits and vegetables that come into season in the summer: watermelon, peaches, plums, berries, cucumber, tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, summer squash and tons more because summer is one of the most bountiful seasons for produce. Now, think about the texture and tastes of the produce mentioned above: they tend to have a lot of water in them or be very juicy and they tend to be very refreshing to eat with a cooling sensation. Our bodies crave this type of produce in the summer because it is hot, we spend more time in the sun, we are more active, and we sweat more. Summer produce provides the human body with additional hydration and electrolytes to compensate for our sweat and activity and has a cooling effect on our bodies from the inside out to help us not be over heated by the summer sun. More specifically, each fruit or vegetable that comes into season in summer may also have its own specialized purpose. For example, watermelon, in addition to hydrating and cooling, provides us with a boost of lycopene which provides additional sun protection to our skin for a time after eating one serving of this delicious fruit! You can see why watermelon is a bonus to have around in the summer besides its delightful taste.

Let’s switch gears and look at winter which will be quickly upon us.  Think about what produce comes into season in winter time; the list is much slimmer because, well, it’s cold and not as much grows during this time. We do, however, harvest gourds like pumpkins, butternut squashes, and acorn squashes in autumn which can be stored and eaten throughout the winter, root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and onions are still available to us, and tough green vegetables like kale, Brussels sprouts, and green beans are also available during the cold winter months. Now again, think about the textures and tastes of these fruits and vegetables. They don’t hold as much water and juice, they are much heartier and slightly heavier. And if you look at the nutrition of these autumn-winter produce picks, you will find that they are often much denser in nutrients so that you can absorb more of your essential vitamins and nutrition by eating a small amount of the above. For example, winter squashes like pumpkin, butternut, and acorn are related to the summer squashes zucchini and yellow neck squash. The winter squashes are far more dense in nutrients than their summer cousins, and so, you only need to eat a small bit of the winter squashes to get their nutritional benefits as oppose to the summer squashes where you would need a bit more. You see, before we had the large scale farming operations that we have today, humans would find themselves with less food in the winter time and they would be battling the cold without central heating and so forth. Humans needed to be careful with the amount of food they were consuming so they that didn’t blow through the winter supply, but the food they did eat needed to provide them with nutrition and also be heartier to help insulate and keep them warm. The Earth delivered with the hearty produce that could last through the season and pack on the nutritional values.

Beyond fruits and vegetables, Ayurveda also instructs us to eat different types of nuts, grains, proteins, spices, and even oils with each season. For example, Ayurveda would recommend during summer that we eat grains like rice and barley, meats like chicken and fish, and use oils like coconut and olive. For winter it recommends that we eat grains like oats, quinoa, and wheat, and more meats in general. This leads me to the fact that Ayurveda also tells us when to eat more of this and less of that. In summertime, we should eat more produce and less meats and grains, and in winter, we should eat a bit more meats and grains. Makes sense right? In summer we have more produce and need the hydration from it, in winter there is less produce available and we need more protein and carbs to give us energy to keep ourselves warm against the cold and active against the more bountiful dark hours of the day. It’s all pretty common sensory.

Additionally, seasonal eating also refers to how we prepare food as well. The spices we use and the methods in which we fix or cook food are also part of eating seasonally. In summer time, the recommendation is to eat more raw and chilled foods with little to no spice because these qualities will help us to cool our bodies and balance against the summer heat. So for summer, the ideal food is not spicy Mexican food and heavy BBQ which actually warms us when we are already hot; rather its salads, sushi, antipasti platters, vegetables and fruits with sauces, and so forth; plus you’ll want to avoid a ton of spicy heat. Contrasting that, in winter time, the recommendation is to cut back on raw foods and enjoy cooked and served hot dishes as well as adding spices that give our food a nice kick because these qualities help us to warm from the inside out against the cold. So here, the ideal foods for winter are soups, stews, braises, and roasts with a moderate to sizeable amount of spicy heat where it makes sense.

As you can see, seasonal eating clearly has its purpose in relation to our health. Seasonal eating is all about eating what the Earth wants to give at each time of year so that our bodies can best function and even thrive in our environments. Like I said, a lot of this should be pretty self-explanatory when you really sit down and think about. However, our food system has made us color blind to what we really should be buying for ourselves at the grocery store. It has made everything available to us, butternut squash available in the heat of the summer and fresh strawberries in the chill of the winter. It’s great that we are so bountiful that we can pretty much find whatever food we want; but that doesn’t mean that it’s exactly what we NEED and what our bodies would be most benefited by consuming.

Now you have a basic understanding of seasonal eating. There really is a lot more to it; there is so, so, so much to learn, understand, and practice. For now, however, I invite you to start incorporating more seasonality into your eating habits. Take a look at Dr. John Douillard’s website lifespa.com where he provides a seasonal grocery list for each season! Here is the link to the page about the winter grocery list since that is the season we are currently in: http://lifespa.com/winter-grocery-list-vata-balancing-diet/ 

Next time you are at the store, seek out the vegetables and fruits that are in season and try making the types of dishes that are best for our bodies in the current time of year. Not only will your body thank you for it, but it’s also fun! I think when we focus on eating what is in season, it makes us appreciate it more when it comes around each year and it gives us the opportunity to play with different types of dishes and flavors!

Sustainablefood.org is also a great resource for finding out what’s in season in your location as well!

I hope you found this article interesting and learned a thing or two. Tell me, do you currently eat seasonally? How can you do so more?

4 Comments

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