Monday, October 7, 2013
Staying Healthy Through the Winter Months
Part Two: Eating Local and In-Season
Eating locally grown produce is certainly a trendy topic these days, and with pretty good reason. I’ve always been a big fan of eating what my region has in-season. For one, in-season produce that’s been picked just hours before making it to my table has a distinctive taste that sets it apart from its grainy supermarket counterparts. Not to mention, what’s in-season often costs much less thanks to the laws of supply and demand. But beyond taste and budget is good nutrition and that really is the key to staying healthy all year round. Here are a few good reasons for eating locally:
Fresh-picked has time to ripen on the vine/root/stalk. True ripening allows nutrients to fully develop, and fully developed nutrients are more “bioavailable” and useable by the body.
Bruising is just plain bad. Foods that have to travel a long way are subject to bruising which can damage the tissues of the produce, and subsequently the phytochemicals we call nutrients, and the taste.
Fresh-picked produce contains higher water-activity. And who isn’t trying to get more water these days?
Energy-efficiency helps everyone, including farmers. When food has to travel by truck across the country, a lot of extra emissions are spewed into the air. Consequently, those emissions generally settle on roadside-grown produce. Those roadside-grown corn fields have some hefty levels of CO2 on them. Not to mention in that in 2005 alone, the produce imported into California via airplane spread 70,000 tons of CO2. What doesn’t get washed, boiled, or cut off, definitely goes into your body. Yuck! Unfortunately, the worse the air-quality, the higher the incidences of asthma, missed school or work days, hospital admissions, and even premature deaths. But indirectly, the worse the air-quality, the harder it is for farmers to grow healthy plants, meaning less crops for them to sell. And to continue to make a living for their families, that means they’ll have to sell their crops at a higher premium, which, you guessed it, gets passed on to you and your family’s grocery bill. Not enough motivation for you? Add to the above the recent government shutdown, which means that the already under-staffed FDA will be on hold, along with most (up to 90%) inspections for imported seafood, fruits, and vegetables. Keep a closer eye on what goes in your belly, by knowing exactly where it comes from.
The benefits of eating produce that are locally in-season go beyond coincidence. No matter your beliefs, it’s hard to deny the strong alignment of benefits to humans and animals from locally grown produce with what ails them in the corresponding season. For example, in areas of the world close to the equator surrounded by non-potable salt water, where hot days put people and animals at higher risk for dehydration, coconuts grow. Why does this matter? Coconuts can be a clean source of water that contain the dehydration-preventing electrolyte potassium. Citrus fruits, also have a high water activity, and grow in regions where more water is often needed by its inhabitants. More fun facts: come cold and flu season, like we are approaching here in most of the states, foods that contain the flu-fighting nutrients Zinc, Beta-Carotene, Vitamin E, and Vitamin C come into season, too.
So, what should you be filling your cart (or reusable tote) with these days to help keep you healthy through the winter? The best bet is to search your local farmers markets and roadside stands for what’s in season nearest you, but for those that are here along the south-eastern seaboard, this list should suit you:
- Sweet Potatoes
- Winter Squash (Acorn, Spaghetti, etc)
- Tree Nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc)
- Bell Peppers
- Hot Peppers/Chiles
By incorporating these yummy, locally-grown and in-season crops into your daily routine, you’ll find the frequency of sick days goes down substantially (so you can use them for something way more fun). Not to mention, your taste buds will be happy campers, too. From the simple addition of some peppers to your salad to a quick afternoon snack of apple slices and pecans to a more complex pumpkin-carrot and ginger soup, you can add these goodies regardless of your level of skill (or amount of spare time). A smoothie incorporating pears and beets is another fun way to start the day, and thanks to our warm fall down here in the Carolinas, we’ve had another go round with tomatoes and strawberries. Throw a few strawberries in to your smoothie to help mask the earthy flavor of beets. So pull out your Pinterest and find some fabulous recipes and ideas that work in these in-season and locally-grown treats to help keep you healthy this winter.