Do you tend to crave certain foods at different times of the year? When it’s hot, you may crave light, juicy foods, and when it’s cold, you may find yourself craving warm and dense food.

What if this was your body’s innate way of guiding you to what you should eat?

“Nature gives us what we need when we need it.”

“Nature gives us what we need when we need it,” says Elson Haas, MD, founder and director of the Preventive Medical Center in San Rafael, CA, and author of Staying Healthy With the Seasons. “Seasonal choices are meant to balance us out. That’s why eating a salad in the dead of winter sometimes feels odd, compared with having one in summer. Yes, you’re getting nutrients, but it might not feel like what you need on a deeper level.”

What is seasonal eating?

Seasonal eating means choosing food that is grown and harvested at its peak, according to a certain season, which is the natural rhythm of nature.

For example, sweet potatoes and pomegranates are harvested late summer/early fall while at their peak. They tend to have better flavor and a deeper color during their peak season.

Seasonal eating can also refer to how food is prepared. In warmer months we may lean to raw and lightly cooked food, while in cooler months we may lean to long and slow-cooked foods.

Seasonal eating can provide several benefits, including adding variety to food menus, boosting nutrition, and saving money.

Seasonal eating can add variety to your menu

Ever feel like you’re eating the same thing each week and desire something different? A simple way to add variety and new flavors to your menu is to choose foods that are in season.

A salad can be reinvented for the season by swapping out romaine lettuce for baby kale and tomatoes and cucumbers for roasted root vegetables and figs.

And, if you think about it, a stir-fry is basically a warm salad, right? Combine your own blend of vegetables (fresh or frozen) and protein of your choice in a pan, stir-fry together and you have a one-pot meal that’s perfect for cool weather!

With seasonal eating, you can change the variety in your menu every 3-4 months!

Seasonal eating can boost nutrition

Did you know the same vegetable, when eaten in season, can be more nutrient-dense? According to a study performed by the Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences at Montclair State University, it was observed that the amount of vitamin C in broccoli showed significant seasonal changes. The fall values for vitamin C were almost twice as high as those for spring.

Considering what we eat during cold weather months can offer a boost to the immune system. “[Seasonal] foods rich in the antioxidants vitamin C and beta-carotene, such as citrus fruit, cabbage, broccoli, pumpkin, sweet potato, and spinach, have immune-boosting power,” says Amy Cartwright, MS, RD, LDN, who is in private practice in Conyngham, PA. “To fight off infections, you should increase your intake of zinc, which is found in fish, oysters, poultry, eggs, milk, unprocessed grains, and cereals.”

Seasonal eating can save you money

At the grocery store, notice what’s usually on sale and highly visible? You got it — seasonal produce! That’s because it’s the most abundant and easiest to transport to the store.

Stock up on produce when it’s in season, and you’ll not only save money, the food will taste its best. Freezing and canning produce is a way to make it last beyond the season. Foods that don’t can or freeze well represent those foods you can look forward to eating when they return in season.

Ever tried buying fresh strawberries in the winter? The cost can run as much as five times more than the cost in the summer!

And the savings go beyond money. Consider the amount of fossil fuel it takes to ship out of season produce across or from out of the country because those foods are not grown locally all year. Versus the benefit of the fuel savings of eating what can be found locally in season.

The savings are multiplied — more money in your pocket, AND you’re doing your part to save the earth’s resources!

If you’d like to know what’s in season in your area, here’s a handy online guide.

What seasonal food will you experiment with this fall?

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