The Abundant Benefits of Seasonal Eating

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Autumn has arrived. The air is a little cooler and crisper and the colors a little more vibrant as we shift from the expressive energy of summer to the inward pull of fall. This is a season of reflection and change. A time for us to look to the past and reflect on what's been working for us, and what has not; to refocus our energy on the areas of our lives that bring us the healthiest fruits, and to allow the unhealthy branches to fall away. It's also a time to look to the future. To plan ahead and ensure that we'll be nourished through the coming winter so that the following seasons will be bountiful.

Being connected to the seasons in this way can help us realign our bodies and minds to the natural rhythms of the Earth. But in this season of change and transition, as the days grow shorter (and our schedules busier), it's not always easy to pay attention to the lessons the seasons bring. Yet, even in our modern, busy lives, there is a simple practice that can help us reconnect, especially in this season of abundance. By including foods in your diet that are naturally grown and harvested this time of year you are “eating seasonally”. Eating seasonally has numerous benefits:

  1. It's better for the environment. By eating foods that aren't being transported from distant countries, less CO2 emissions are being released into the atmosphere. Also, during transport, all sorts of chemicals and coatings are used on the produce to keep them from degrading during their travels  to a supermarket near you.
  2. It's cheaper. Foods that are not in season must either be grown far away, requiring expensive transportation and refrigeration, or must be grown in "hothouses" or other facilities that control the climate and amount of light. All of these things add to the cost of the off-season produce you purchase in the grocery store.
  3. They’re packed with more nutrients. The more time between when produce is harvested and when it’s consumed, the more nutrients are losts due to natural decay. Seasonal and local fruits and vegetables guarantee the least amount of transport time.
  4. And of course, seasonal produce is fresher and more flavorful!

In addition to these benefits, eating seasonally also has one benefit that is less known, it's healthier for our gut.

Researchers have studied the gut flora of the Hadza people, one of the last groups of primitive hunter-gatherers on Earth. The Hadza people were found to have one of the most diverse and abundant gut ecosystems on the planet. And what do scientists point to as the reason? Their seasonal diets, of course. For thousands of years the Hadza people have lived off the land, surviving and thriving off seasonal produce. The natural rhythm and diversity of their diets has created a microbiotic ecosystem in their gut that helps keep them healthy. By incorporating some of these natural patterns into our own lives, we can, over time, improve our own gut bacteria.

The bacteria in our digestive tract not only help us break down our food to extract the vital nutrients we need to survive, but research also shows that these tiny microbes actually communicate with us. They can influence our moods by encouraging hormone production, interact with our immune systems and assist in fighting infectionsPlus, happy and healthy gut flora help us manage our appetites and combat obesity. In fact, the benefits of a healthy gut ecosystem are so numerous that some people are willing to receive a fecal transplant from a gut-healthy donor!

Luckily, for those of us wanting a less extreme approach to developing a healthy gut ecosystem, there are a few options to help us eat a more seasonal diet.

Farmer’s Markets
If you’re looking for fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, there’s no better place than your local farmer’s market. Farmer’s markets take all the guess work out of buying produce that is in season. Not only that, but the majority of farmers participating in these markets grow without the use of pesticides and preservatives. If you’re unsure, just ask them - they LOVE talking about their process.

Join a CSA
CSA stands for Community-Supported Agriculture. CSAs are run by the same farmers you would find at your local farmer's market, but there are some added benefits. Members of a CSA pay up front for regular boxes of local, seasonal produce, sometimes delivered right to their doorstep. These boxes are filled with an assortment of in-season fruits and vegetables, and sometimes other farm-fresh products like eggs, cheese, and honey.  Because the contents of the box are selected by the farmers based on what is currently abundant on the farm, you may have produce that you’re unfamiliar with, this is a great opportunity to get creative and find ways of incorporating these seasonal foods into fun new recipes!

Check out www.localharvest.org/csa/ to learn more about CSAs in your area or visit your local farmer's market and inquire directly from the farmers!

Another handy resource for discovering in-season produce is the Seasonal Food Guide. This comprehensive guide lists common fruits and vegetables that are in season in your area. By following this guide, you can be sure that the produce you purchase in supermarkets is in line with your seasonal food choices.

If you’re interested in learning more about seasonal eating, check out the Females in Fine Fettle Podcast, Episode 12.

Take care, and enjoy this abundant season!

Michelle & The VWS Team.