- Seasonal produce doesn’t have to travel far to reach your local grocery store.
- Produce is usually tastier, fresher, and more nutrient dense when it is harvested at peak ripeness.
- Frozen and canned produce can still be a nutritious option in the offseason.
Eating seasonally means filling your plate with fruits and vegetables that are freshly harvested in your region. This practice has many health, economic, and environmental benefits.
Grocery stores sell fresh fruits and vegetables year-round. Strawberries, for example, are harvested in the spring and summer in many parts of the United States, but they are always available in supermarkets.
If you buy strawberries in the winter, they’re more likely to be imported from Mexico, Central America, or South America, according to Judy Simon, MS, RDN, CD, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified health educator at the Nutrition Clinic. at UW Medical Center in Seattle.
“Because they have to travel so far, they harvest well before they reach their peak,” Simon told Verywell in an email.
Out-of-season produce can travel hundreds or thousands of miles to reach your local supermarket, which can be more expensive and less sustainable. Fruits and vegetables also lose some nutritional value during transportation.
“Seasonal produce is allowed to remain on the tree, plant, or vine until it is fully ripe and mature. It gives us more natural taste and nutrients. Nutrients are lost when products have to travel long distances,” says Simon.
How Can Seasonal Eating Benefit Your Diet?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults eat 1.5-2 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables per day. However, most US adults do not meet these goals.
Eating seasonally means you’re adding variety to your diet, which can help reduce cancer risk and improve overall health. Replacing fruits and vegetables in your diet can provide a better variety of vitamins and minerals.
“It really improves the variety of food to switch with the seasons, because you don’t want to eat the same thing, week after week,” says Sherry Gray, MPH, RD, a registered dietitian and a professor of nutrition at the University of Connecticut.
Gray added that some seasonal foods help the body to deal with the change in weather conditions. Summer produce, like watermelon, will help hydrate you when it’s hot, while better winter produce, like beets and yams, will give your body more calories as the temperature drops. .
Seasonal produce also tastes better than out-of-season varieties, which means you can have a better appetite for fruits and vegetables at their peak.
“If you buy local and if you buy fresh, the flavors are definitely going to be better, and the nutrient content is going to be better than something that’s shipped and taken out,” Gray said.
When fruits and vegetables have to travel long distances, factors such as temperature and the number of days of storage can lead to browning and loss of vitamins and minerals. Sometimes, post-harvest treatments such as heat, edible coating, and ripening agents are applied to fresh produce to maintain its quality.
Seasonal Produce May Vary Based on Where You Live
Seasonality depends on your local climate. For example, strawberry season runs from May to June in New Jersey, but it peaks from November to April in Florida.
“Things that are seasonal in Florida are not things that are seasonal in Maryland, or New Jersey, or in California. All regions have different growing seasons,” Jennie Schmidt, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and farmer at Schmidt Farms Inc. in Sudlersville, MD, said Verywell.
Schmidt said most state departments of agriculture and university extension offices share seasonal produce calendars online and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) also has a seasonal produce guide. on its website.
You can find fresh produce at farm stands, farmers markets, and some grocery stores, or you can go to a local farm that offers your own produce, Schmidt said.
“The farmers who go to the farmer’s markets have harvested the day before so they bring you the freshest things they have. They didn’t bring items from the cooler last week,” he said.
Fresh, seasonal produce may be the most nutritious choice, but frozen and canned produce can still be nutritious options if you don’t have access to local fruits and vegetables.
“We grow fresh vegetables as well as canning and frozen vegetables,” Schmidt said. “Canning and frozen are usually processed within 24 hours. That’s why canned and frozen foods are really healthy, nutritious options, especially in the off-season.
USDA Seasonal Produce Guide
Here are some seasonal fruits and vegetables you can look for at your local grocery store or farmers market:
- Bell Peppers
- Summer Squash
- Brussels sprouts
- Collard greens
- Swiss chard
- Winter Squash