In our days almost no foods are off limit. Even in the most bitter days of winter there’s an abundant choice of fruits and vegetables on the shelves of supermarkets. Aubergines and courgettes that don’t come in till late spring/ early summer are available all year round, just like strawberries, raspberries and nectarines, although firm and tasteless, appear on the shelves in January, overlooking the fact that they are not in season till summer months. It would be natural to think Wow! So great to have this choice we couldn’t even think of a couple of decades ago! But… If you think deeper, these foods really shouldn’t be on the market this time of the year. Then how do they get there? Fortunately (or unfortunately?) people have developed all sorts of strategies to produce and sell the foods that normally are not in season – they are grown in greenhouses, treated with crop boosting chemicals or, at best, imported from the far-away countries to please us, the consumers. Or maybe to make money? It really works both ways, but better for them and less so for us.
The problem with imported produce
I think we all know what it means if the produce is grown in greenhouses, out of its season, and treated with crop enhancers, but if you are not sure, it means that food doesn’t contain the same vitamins, minerals and other compounds that it normally does when grown naturally in its appropriate season. Then, depending on the fertilizers and other chemicals used, the properties of food can be modified to promote a longer shelf life. It goes without saying that the longer the foods can be stored, the less nutritious they are.
When the produce is imported from other countries, it also means that the nutritive quality of food suffers because of the longer storage and transportation. The vitamin and mineral content of imported produce is simply not the same as of the foods produced locally. These foods are also frequently modified to prolong the shelf life of the produce – how else would it survive long transportations at irregular temperatures and conditions? In addition to nutrients content of the foods, transporting products from other countries means more greenhouse gas emissions. In the world where the global warming is happening much faster than we would have liked, additional CO2 emissions are definitely of no help. The more miles foods have to travel from their original location to your plate, the more is the cost. So, essentially, you are paying a higher price for a food that is less nutritious, probably genetically modified and chemically treated and contributing to the global warming. And let’s not forget about plastic. Imported produce requires some kind of packaging to be transported – usually plastic, and plastic is one of the biggest pollutants, killing approx. 1.5 million marine animals each year. It is truly sad that we have to pay extra for all this mess.
Why you should buy locally produced seasonal foods
It should be obvious by now that the benefits of seasonal and local produce are many. You know where your food comes from. You know that it is in season and thus has the best nutrients to offer. You know that it doesn’t contribute (at least as much) to global warming. It helps to avoid the excessive use of plastic – just be sure to bring reusable woven bags to the shop. You know that the money you pay stay in the community and support local farmers. You can always enquire about the farms at your local fruit and veg vendors. And you can always find local organic produce and buy it directly from the farm.
Yes, it takes a little bit of change, but it’s doable, and all the benefits are yours.
Foods In Season This Spring
These may not be your regular veg to buy, but it doesn’t hurt to try while they’re in season. Artichokes are quite low in calories, but contain a lot of goodness. Just 100 g provides you with 14% of daily recommended intake of dietary fibre, that keeps your heart and gut happy by reducing cholesterol and supporting the natural detox processes in the body. It is a source of vitamins C, K and Folic acid (20%, 12% and 17% respectively). Vitamin K, although often overlooked, is crucial to bone health and healthy neurons in the brain, making it a valuable addition to the treatment of the patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin C contributes to overall health as well as healthy and young looking skin. Folic acid is required for the DNA health and is especially important during the first weeks of pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects in babies. Artichokes have a good antioxidant content, helping to protect your body from the harmful free radicals; it is a source of many B-complex vitamins required for metabolism on a cellular level. Rich in Copper and Iron, it is good for your blood, and Potassium makes it helpful in regulating the water and Sodium levels, important for heart beat and blood pressure regulation.
Asparagus received a bad rap recently due to its content of asparagine – an amino acid found in excess in people who have breast cancer. It is, however, not clear if dietary asparagine raises the levels of asparagine in the body (since it’s naturally produced in the body). It is also not clear if the increased levels raise the risk of breast cancer, or breast cancer raises the levels of asparagine. Two things are for sure – people consume way more asparagine through dairy, eggs, meat and fish, which are all sources of it, along with potatoes, nuts, legumes and soya; and breast cancer can occur in people who have never had asparagus.
Asparagus is a very low calorie vegetable – just 20 kcal per 100 g, or roughly 1% of daily intake. Just like artichokes, it is rich in fibre, B-complex vitamins, including Folic acid. It is a good source of antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, and it has even more vitamin K than artichokes (37% per 100 g). It is also a source of Copper, Iron, Potassium and Manganese and contains antioxidants that may help to protect your body from certain cancers.
Kale has been popular since the ancient Greek and Roman times. It is very nutritious and extremely high in vitamins A, C and K (we’re talking 200% +). It is also rich in minerals, namely Copper and Manganese, and is a source of Iron and Calcium. It houses one of the most potent antioxidants – Indole-3-Carbinol, that is protective from certain cancers, such as prostate and colon. Due to very high vitamin K content it may be beneficial for patients with Alzheimer’s disease as it prevents neuronal damage in the brain. It offers protection from vitamin A deficiency, osteoporosis and Iron-deficiency anemia.
This is another spring vegetable, pretty tasty if you ask me. Peas are also good sources of many vitamins, including A, C, K and B-complex. Low in calories, peas are a decent source of protein and dietary fibre. In addition to fibre, peas have a phytosterol called ß-sitosterol, which helps lower cholesterol levels. They are a rich source of Iron, Copper and Manganese, and also contain Calcium and Zinc. Zinc is important for healthy and strong immune system, it can help reduce stress levels, control blood glucose in people with diabetes and treat acne.
Spinach is available all year round, but it actually only comes in season in March. It is probably one of the most popular greens, and rightly so. It contains good amounts of many of B-complex vitamins, which are required for metabolism and energy production. It is incredibly high in vitamins A and K and provides almost half of your daily requirements of Folic acid. It also contains vitamin E, which is important for many processes in the body. Being a powerful antioxidant, vitamin E can balance cholesterol by fighting cholesterol oxidation. It also may slow down the progression of atherosclerosis due to its cholesterol-lowering action. It may slow down ageing and prevent many diseases, including cancers, which are more likely occur due to DNA damage by oxidation. It helps repair skin, lock the moisture in and assist in treatment of sunburns. It balances hormones and helps manage PMS symptoms, lower risks of dementia and be of a benefit to people with Alzheimer’s disease. In those who exercise, it may help boost endurance and muscle strength by decreasing muscle fatigue. Maybe there’s a reason Popeye was eating so much spinach.
Spring Onions (Scallions)
These green stalks grown on onion bulbs will add colour and juicy goodness to your salads, soups and stir fries. They are rich in fibre and low in calories – a mix we all want to see when it comes to food. Dietary fibre, aside from being good for your gut and blood vessels, is also good for filling you up and preventing you from feeling hungry too soon. As a member of Allium family, green onions contain very powerful antioxidants, but their properties are best released when you crush or chop the vegetable and let it sit for a few minutes before consuming it raw. Spring onions are anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-microbial, just like the regular onions, so they are great for those days when you feel under the weather. Allicin, another compound in spring onions is known to decrease the stiffness of the blood vessels, thus improving blood pressure. It may thin out the blood and prevent clot formation. All in all, spring onions are very heart-friendly. Now add to this package the aforementioned vitamins A, C, K and Folic acid along with Iron, Copper, Manganese and Calcium. Spring onions should totally be on your plate this spring season.
So these are the 6 foods that will make a nutritious addition to your meals this spring. But of course they are not the only foods that are at its best this season. Many other fruits and vegetables that we are used to have all year round are in season, too. You can look out for these foods at your local markets or fruit and veg shops to make sure that you get the freshest, seasonal and local produce. And even if you do buy them in your closest supermarket, there’s more chance you’ll find the locally produced varieties rather than imported, unless they are tropical fruits and don’t grow in your region.
Other fruit and veg to look for in spring:
Apples, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Celeriac, Grapefruit, Leeks, Lemons, Onions, Oranges, Pak Choi, Parsnips, Peppers, Pomegranates, Potatoes (new), Radicchio, Rhubarb, Sweet Potato, Watercress.
If you want to further boost your meals with unique flavours and nutrients, try these herbs that come in in spring:
Basil, mint, parsley, sage, coriander, chives and dill.