Eating seasonally may sound like a sacrifice (who wants to go months without strawberries?!) but increasing our intake of seasonal fruits and vegetables can be beneficial for our bodies, our wallets, and our planet.
Here are five reasons to keep an eye out for seasonal fruits and vegetables when meal planning or grocery shopping.
Seasonal produce is often cheaper
Higher quality ingredients (think locally grown heirlooms and organics) are often more expensive. However, seasonal fruits and vegetables are an exception to this rule.
Because out-of-season fruits and vegetables often have to travel vast distances, while being kept cold, their prices are often inflated due to transportation and cooling costs. So buying fresh, locally grown produce instead of something that’s flown in from overseas, where the growing season is longer, is usually less expensive.
Seasonal produce usually tastes better
Some things are better with age, but this doesn’t usually apply to fruits and vegetables unless we’re talking about the day or two it takes for hard bananas or avocados to ripen off the tree.
Most fruits and vegetables will have noticeably better taste and texture fresh after their seasonal harvest, as opposed to after they’ve spent weeks or months in refrigerated warehouses and controlled storage environments. Yes, months. Some fruits, like apples, are kept in storage facilities for up to a year before they arrive in grocery stores thanks to reduced oxygen and gassed atmospheres. (Yum, 1-methylcyclopropene!) The same goes for potatoes.
From the moment they’re picked, fruits and vegetables begin to change, often resulting in a loss of taste, moisture, and texture. So visit your local farmer’s market and look for fresh, local produce in your grocery store whenever possible.
Seasonal produce can be more nutritious
While properly freezing produce can extend (and sometimes even increase) nutrient values, foods are often at their nutritional peak when they’re allowed to ripen naturally and harvested fresh from the vine or tree.
There’s a lot of science here dealing with mechanical stress, nutrient degradation, fat-soluble vitamins, and thermal sensitivity. But the gist is that certain vegetables can lose as much as 70 percent of their vitamin content during storage and transportation.
Another win for seasonal, more nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables.
Seasonal produce is better for the environment
Remember what we said about transportation costs and cold storage? The extra energy consumption required to ship and transport out-of-season produce has an environmental impact as well.
So an apple picked in autumn from your local orchard is going to have a much smaller footprint than one that was picked eleven months ago and three-thousand miles away. In-season produce is also more likely to be picked by hand, versus mechanical harvesting, which also reduces the environmental cost of seasonal produce.
Seasonal produce is often more diverse
This point is two-fold. The more we increase our intake of seasonal ingredients—versus eating the same old apples and oranges all year—the more variety we’re adding to our diets. And more variety equals more nutrient diversity and beneficial phytochemicals.
Meanwhile, out-of-season produce is often bred specifically to endure shipping and storage. It’s more economical for large-scale farmers to grow one variety of tomatoes, for example, versus multiple varieties, and to choose varieties that are bred to last longer and endure cold temperatures. Unfortunately, this often comes at a cost to flavor, texture, and sometimes nutrients. (That freshly picked heirloom tomato might bruise more easily, but it’s also likely to taste better.)
In summary: fresh doesn’t always mean fresh, which is another reason we refresh our Reboot menu seasonally; opt for locally grown, in-season ingredients whenever possible; and ship our meals economically within days of freezing.