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A snack for every season

Seasonal eating is something we should all pay attention to. Your health and your back pocket will thank you! First published in Aotearoa Vegan Magazine.

As a self-proclaimed health nut, I have been on a quest for many years to optimise my nutrition, searching for the most nutrient dense foods of superior quality. Therefore, I naturally found myself ‘down the rabbit hole’ of seasonal eating and its relevance to human health. Seasonal eating is consuming the foods within your geographic area that are in peak harvest for that time of year. Here’s an insight into my discoveries.

How seasonality influences our health

Studies show fresh seasonal foods have a higher nutrient profile when compared to foods that have been imported from overseas or outside local perimeters and where ripening agents have been used. For example, studies show broccoli holding higher concentrations of vitamin C during peak season, turnips higher in antioxidants and other phytonutrients, and rosemary higher in antioxidants, alongside enhanced antimicrobial properties.

Commonly used ripening agents forcefully ‘speed up’ or ‘slow down’ the fruit and vegetable ripening process, going against their natural growing tempo. This artificial method may be used in the hope of prolonging stability of the food during transportation, as well as a way to meet the demands of consumers. Some of the agents often used are calcium carbide, ethylene, acetlyne and ethanol. Research suggests that calcium carbide, for example, should not be used due to its potential link to ailments such as poor mental health, neurological pathologies, headaches and sleep disorders.

Imported produce, often travelling from the other side of the globe, may arrive with less bioactive compounds and micronutrients due to variables such as travel conditions, storage and impact of temperature. Foods, including cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts) and cherries, have shown to decrease in antioxidants when stored at cooler temperatures. Although evidence around snap frozen vegetables suggests they retain their nutrient value if stored in the freezer directly after harvesting. The nutrients are then preserved delivering comparable nutritional quality as when freshly picked.

Eat the rainbow

Eating seasonally increases your chances of eating a wider variety of fruits and vegetables, encouraging you to ‘change up’ your produce choices and maybe reach for something you have never tried before! This creates a diverse gut-microbiome, which simply means creating an assortment of the types of ‘good bacteria’ that live in our gastrointestinal tract, optimising our digestive and overall health.

Research conducted on a remote North American demographic by the University of Chicago found our gut bacteria changes from season to season to ‘align’ with the foods we’re meant to be eating at that time of year. Furthermore, a comparative study concluded digestive microbes have drastically declined in variety and abundance within modernised populations when compared to traditional cultures such as the Hadza Hunter-Gatherers of Tanzania.

Learnings from our ancestors

Ancient practices such as ayurvedic medicine in India have named the practice of seasonal eating as ritucharya. The philosophy emphasises that to obtain optimum health and as a

Child eating fruit in Autumn
Child eating fruit in Summer

prophylactic measure towards illness, one must eat in accordance with the season. In Australia, First Nations people recognise a connection between indigenous astronomy and seasonal foods. Carefully analysing the astronomical position of the stars provides insight into seasonal changes, notifying them of animal and plant behaviours which indicates what foods to utilise as medicines.

Sourcing your seasonal produce

Every Sunday morning, without fail, you will find me at my local farmers market bright eyed and bushy tailed, reusable mesh vegetable bags in-hand, with ‘seasonal’ snatching at the forefront of my mind. Not only do I know I will be supporting my local farmers, likely drastically reducing my exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and the ripening agents we touched on above, I’ll also be putting myself in a position where seasonal foods are in abundance comparative to mainstream supermarkets.

Another option is growing your own produce at home. It is not only fun and exposes you to nature, but also a fantastic way to encourage a seasonal predominant eating pattern. The foods you grow in your backyard garden or balcony pots are most likely not going to flourish unless you plant produce right for its environment in accordance to the time of year.

Inform yourself of what’s in season. As a general guide I have provided a list below, although where you’re located may influence this guide.

Seasonal gains beyond your personal health

Commercial greenhouses are typically trying to meet consumer demands, providing access to specific types of fruits and vegetables all year round. Unfortunately, they also require a lot of energy to maintain and then transport to their final location. On the other hand, eating seasonal food grown close to home under natural sunlight aligns with sustainable purchasing, reducing detrimental effects consumption has on our planet. We must be mindful that where we purchase our food from can either positively or negatively influence our carbon footprint.

Finally, seasonal eating is favourable to your wallet! Due to the produce being more readily available to suppliers, you will potentially be finding yourself paying less in the months where that food is in season.

Perhaps, there truly is ‘a snack for every season’.

Connect with Celeste at www.thelifestylemedicco.com.au

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