After a winter of consuming heavier meat dishes—hearty stews, pot roasts, and other nourishing meals that warm you from the inside out—do you feel like you need a detox or juice cleanse come spring? While there’s nothing wrong with giving your body a boost through a short-term nutritional “reset,” varying your diet with the seasons may give your body the nutritional support it needs in order to avoid the demand for a more drastic intervention.
It is only thanks to the wonders of modern growing and shipping methods that we can find mangoes and papayas in New England grocery stores in winter, or tomatoes and raspberries nationwide year-round. Foods certainly don’t taste as good out of season. Compare a mushy (not to mention tasteless) winter tomato to a ripe, sweet, juicy one at a farmers’ market in July. But better tasting food is only one benefit of eating seasonally. An even bigger one is that you’ll provide your body with the nutrients it needs all year long, without resorting to trendy diets based on gimmicky superfruits touted by Hollywood celebrities.
Year-round availability of starchy carbohydrates in temperate zones is a very new development—to say nothing of the processed and refined, sugar-laden grain products that are absolutely everywhere. Eating cyclically, with the seasons, allows your body to follow a natural rhythm of lower and higher carbohydrate consumption, and more or less fat, rather than presenting constant influxes of sugar, grain and vegetable oils that your physiology isn’t designed to handle.
Selecting seasonal foods also helps provide your body with an array of nutrients it might not get when you stick to eating the same things day in and day out, simply because they’re always available. For instance, think of having an omelet of farm-fresh eggs, tomatoes, basil and bell peppers in summer, or a side dish of roasted squash or sweet potatoes in November.
Summer, of course, is a time of increased fruit and vegetable availability, with nearly every color of the rainbow represented: blueberries, purple eggplant, yellow squash, vibrant red tomatoes, orange bell peppers. Consuming these diverse foods is a good way to get a supply of nutrients that are harder to come by in colder weather. Most of the prized summer vegetables are lower in carbohydrates, allowing you to maintain a healthy body weight while still enjoying a wide array of delicious non-starchy carbs.
On the heels of summer comes autumn, with seasonal foods that are denser in carbohydrates—such as such as acorn, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes—as your body primes itself to store nutrients (and body fat) for winter, when food is less plentiful. (Naturally and theoretically less plentiful, that is. Remember, without modern technology, the produce available in winter would be greatly limited.) The good news is, these brightly colored foods also bring with them hefty doses of beta-carotene, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin B6.
During winter in temperate zones, the selection of fresh produce is even more limited, but there’s certainly still a variety of healthful options to choose from, especially the hardy greens and cruciferous vegetables that do well in colder times, like collard greens, kale and Brussels sprouts. Winter also typically means more meat dishes, while produce is less abundant.
The produce that appears in spring as the ground thaws almost seems intended as a kind of natural and gentle “detox” after months of higher consumption of animal fat and protein. The tender salad greens, asparagus, and green peas offer generous amounts of folate, magnesium, potassium, vitamin K1 and manganese.
Take advantage of each season’s unique bounty. Not only will your food taste better, but you’ll also give your body diverse nutrients at the times it needs them.