Tim Leeming. Exercise Nutritionist. BAppSci (Hons)
Eat seasonal fruit and vegetables! It’s old news, right? Have you ever considered why we should eat to the seasons? Sure, there’s the story of economics, the fruit and veg available in abundance will be cheapest and buying it supports local growers. What about the health benefits? Let’s discuss some of those. There are numerous advantages for your health in eating local, seasonal produce, and the following points might surprise you.
Ironically, the delicious and nutritious produce that is ready to eat in summer actually has more of the macro and micronutrients that our body’s need in the warmer, sunnier months. Foods like stone fruit, blueberries, capsicum and cucumber are high in water and electrolytes that keep us hydrated and functioning in the heat! Wow, it’s almost as if things were designed that way…
You might know that one of our essential, fat-soluble vitamins – Vitamin D – is produced in the body in response to sunlight exposure. Vitamin D is not only important for strong bones, but especially for our mental health! Hence, countries with fewer annual hours of sunshine have higher rates of depression. Vitamin D is involved in controlling how tightly the cells that line our gut are packed together. You might have heard recently about this thing called “leaky gut” which is causing a myriad of modern health problems, from irritable bowel to auto-immune disease, arthritis and (again) psychological disorders. In the summer, higher sun exposure leads to higher levels of Vitamin D and therefore a more robust gut lining. What’s that got to do with seasonal eating? It means you can stomach more raw foods – such as salads – which are actually a little harder to digest than cooked foods. The opposite holds true in winter; cooked foods are better for your gut and overall health.
A useful trick to getting the most out of your summer fruits and vegetables is to add fat to them. I always promote the cooking of vegetables with butter or coconut oil to increase the bioavailability of nutrients in the food. In summer you can do this too – dressing your salads with extra virgin olive oil is an excellent way to add fat and therefore boost the amount of nutrients your body will take from the food. Additionally, drop a spoonful of coconut oil into your berry smoothie!
For your reference, here’s a list of some of the fruits and vegetables that are in season during summer in NZ:
Berries (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries)
Capsicum (after Christmas through until autumn)
Stone fruits (apricots, avocadoes, cherries, plums, peaches, nectarines)