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Is It Better to Eat Seasonal Produce?

Eating fresh local produce is a great idea. But there's no reason to avoid fruits and vegetables because they aren't in season.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
September 20, 2016
Episode #400

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Marisa writes:

“I recently spoke to someone who has lost a significant amount of weight. Among the many rules that his nutritionist told him to follow was to only eat fruits and vegetables in season. Does the science support this?”

Eating with the seasons is an oft-repeated bit of nutritional wisdom. It can certainly be a fun and delicious way to add variety to your menus. I also appreciate the way it keeps me a little bit more in touch with the natural world and how our food is grown.

In the Spring, we savor the early spring greens, radishes, scallions, and peas. In the early summer, we enjoy beets, strawberries and asparagus. As the summer goes on, we gorge on cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, zucchini, corn, and peaches. In the Fall, we turn to the cool weather crops: apples, carrots, broccoli, and pumpkins.

But for those of us who live in cooler climates, there’s not much to harvest between the last fall pumpkins and the early spring peas—does that mean that we shouldn’t eat vegetables in the winter? What about the string beans and tomatoes we put up during the summer? Would getting them out in January break the rules? And there are lots of nutritious fruits and vegetables that are NEVER in season where I live: things like avocados and oranges and olives. Can I only enjoy these when I visit California or Mexico or Greece?

For most of us, It would be impractical to eat only seasonal fruits and vegetables all year round. Moreover, I’m not at all sure that eating strictly with the seasons necessarily ensures the best nutrition.  

Are Seasonal Vegetables More Nutritious?

Freshly picked, local produce may be more nutritious—and more flavorful—than produce that’s harvested far away and has spent days or weeks in storage or transport. And if you’re shopping at the farmer’s market, seasonal local produce is pretty much all you’re going to find. Have at it!

At the grocery store, however, there’s no guarantee that those tomatoes on display were picked in your time zone—even at the height of the local tomato season. Given the realities of modern food distribution, they could just as easily have been grown last month on another continent. Or even in a hothouse where seasons can be artificially created.  

In fact, some of the most nutritious produce you can find is actually in the freezer case because most of that is picked and flash frozen within hours of being harvested—locking in all that nutrition for you to enjoy year round.

Freshness is not the only factor in how nutritious and/or flavorful a vegetable may be.  It may have just as much to do with the variety that's being grown, how it's grown, and how it is processed and stored.  You can also check out my article on hydroponically grown vegetables.

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