Why is eating seasonally important?
We have all heard from the media that we should be making the effort to eat seasonally but what does that actually mean and why is it important?
Firstly, eating seasonally means eating food at the time it is actually grown naturally and picked ready to eat.
And why is this a good thing? It saves money – seasonal produce is normally in peak supply so the cost is therefore lower. In addition, and most importantly, at this point it is the freshest, best tasting and the healthiest. If also encourages us to try new foods ensuring we get a wide range of vitamins and minerals rather than just sticking to the same few foods that we always choose.
Out of season foods are often shipped half way around the world before they reach us to ensure we have a year round supply of what we want. Therefore they are picked before they are at their peak to ensure they don’t spoil in transit. This makes them more expensive and will have less nutrients. The time from picking, then travel to warehouses and supermarkets, before they finally reaching our plates can be a long time and this diminishes their nutrient capacity. That’s why I would always recommend taking a good multivitamin to supplement your diet.
It is also worth trying to buy locally. This supports local farmers and means that the produce is often fresher as it hasn’t had to travel so far. Community veg schemes are great as they are often organic too.
How can you tell if something is in season?
Look at the pricing. It is cheaper in season when the produce is widely available. Plus the product is normally in abundance in the supermarkets. Lastly look out for products that you wouldn’t regularly see such as Brussels sprouts late Autumn, you know they are in season as that is the only time they are available.
This doesn’t mean you can only eat seasonally! It is far better that you include any fruit and veg in your diet that trying to only pick a few seasonal things but use it as a general approach and your health and pocket will that you for it!
Top 10 Autumn Fruit and Vegetables
1 Sweet Potatoes
These are not actually potatoes but tubers. They have really high levels of Vitamin A and one portion of sweet potato is equivalent to eating 23 portions of broccoli for Vitamin A content. They also contain high levels of vitamin C essential in warding off colds at this time of year. Sweet potatoes are also low GI which means the are slowly absorbed into your blood stream therefore are a good choice for people with diabetes or blood sugar control issues.
Sweet potatoes are a starchy veg which means that they are calorie dense and a healthy substitute for refined carbs such as pasta, bread or rice. They can be roasted as wedges, mashed, made into jackets or added into stews and soups.
These are also high in Vitamin A (which is why parents always tell their kids to eat their carrots so that they can see in the dark because the beta-carotene helps with healthy eyes) but carrots also contain anti-oxidants and many other nutrients. Like most veg they are high in fibre which helps digestion, keeping you full and maintaining stable blood sugar levels.
Carrots can be eaten raw or cooked and are a great vegetable for kids as they can be chopped or grated and hidden in so many meals!
Another good source of Vitamin c plus important phyto-chemicals which fight against cancer, especially breast cancer. Use this vegetable instead of a potato. I love mixing it into a root vegetable mash.
This is another versatile vegetable that can be hidden in so many foods when dealing with fussy kids. My mother in law used to blend hers down until it was so small my Husband never noticed! Onions have both anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory properties and are being looked at as possible cures for asthma. Plus mixing onion with turmeric has anti-cancer properties.
5. Brussell Sprouts
This Christmas favourite has had a bad rep as a soggy bad tasting vegetable but in fact it can be used as a tasty side dish fried up with shallots and bacon. It is part of the kale and cauliflower family and like other veg is high in fibre, nutrients and anti-oxidants. This vegetable is particularly known for it’s high Vitamin K levels which are essential in supporting strong bones, which is very important in women especially when reaching the Menopause.
Once again these contain fibre. This moves slowly through the body undigested therefore slowing the absorption of sugar into the blood thereby reducing cravings, fat storage, energy dips and hunger. Parsnips are great as a potato substitute and can be mashed, boiled, roasted or made into chips plus they make a great soup.
These are found in abundance on trees at this time of year and can be found in cooking apples or eating apple varieties. Apples contain flavonoids which are powerful antioxidants which help lower the risk of diseases such as heart disease, heart attacks and cancer.
This fruit is very high in fibre with 4g per pear which is the equivalent to about 1.5 cups brown rice. The soluble fibre as already mentioned is great for your digestion as well as maintaining stable blood sugar levels.
This tasty seedless fruit can be identified by it’s loose skin. Normally associated with Christmas they are great as a snack with nuts (I love them with cashews), as a pudding in yoghurt or even as a savoury dish with chicken or in salads.
Spinach is just packed full of beneficial properties – high in fibre, anti-inflammatory, good for the heart and digestion, anti-ageing, lowers blood pressure and so on. It can be added to anything! Smoothies, soups, curries, omelettes, stews…..
It is also worth mentioning that this time of year is great for picking up fresh nuts, ones that haven’t been processed, salted, roasted or anything to make them unhealthy! They are full of beneficial vitamins and minerals plus they are high in good fats which makes them a fantastic mid-afternoon snack. But make sure you stick to one handful a day and don’t eat the whole bag!
Brazil nuts – These contain high levels of selenium which is essential to immune function and can’t be found in many dietary sources.
Walnuts – These contain omega 3 fatty acids which are essential to brain and joint function as well as may other things. A great source for non-fish eaters.
Almonds – Containing Vitamin E, fibre, protein, calcium and plant sterols, these are though to be the healthiest of the nut group.
The only peanut to be cautious of is the peanut as this has high levels of saturated fats in it. Instead pick the other choices which have mono-saturated fats.
Aim for 1/2 your plate to be veg in every meal. It’s low in calories, full of health benefits and will keep you blood sugar levels stable throughout the day.
Why not try a new seasonal veg this week and get creative in the kitchen?