With the days finally getting longer and the scent of spring in the air, you may notice the fresh produce in the shops gradually starting to change. An abundance of British fruits and vegetables will start to occupy the shelves of our super markets and farmers’ markets, and you’ll be pleased to find they are often a lot cheaper
Many of us don’t think of eating seasonally, as here in the UK we can buy a wide variety of fruit and vegetables (as well as meat and fish), all year round. We can enjoy a berry pudding in January, or a roasted squash salad in July, and why wouldn’t we?
But what is the cost to eating this way?
We all know how much the environment suffers, due to the increased air miles used to ship our green beans from Kenya
in February for example, or the excessive pesticides and chemicals used to preserve and protect our fruits and vegetables on their way across the globe. We end up consuming these in our diets, putting us at increased risk of developing hormonal imbalances and cancers. Many fruits and vegetables need to be picked before they are ripe (ripened fruit and vegetables don’t travel well) which also means they are depleted in both flavour and vital nutrients.
What’s more, there is a financial impact to importing these foods all year round – a study carried out by the Food Foundation in 2016, said:
‘We cannot hide from the fact that the price of veg is likely to start to climb as the effects of Brexit take hold. While these increases will impact on all of our imported food…this may deliver an economic advantage for British-grown veg’.
But is the attitude of the British public changing?
Heather Hancock, Chair of the FSA Board said: ‘ The FSA’s biennial consumer survey, Food & You, gives us insight into changing food consumption patterns… around half of consumers had more trust in food from the UK and considered it to be higher quality than food from abroad.’
Mintel’s latest survey, on attitudes to British food in 2016 found that 56% of shoppers say they try to buy British food whenever they can, and 77% agree that it is important to support British farmers… according to the survey 39% think that British food tastes better. So it appears we are moving in the right direction, supporting local growers and becoming more aware of what we eat.
But what does this all have to do with our health?
The changing seasons put different demands on our bodies and luckily nature has provided us with a helping hand. Our bodies need warming foods in winter and cooling ones in summer. Think of all the delicious re-hydrating fruits and vegetables we eat in summer – melons, cucumbers, lettuces. Berries are abundant at this time of year, and they come loaded with antioxidants – vital for protecting our skin from the sun. And what about the starchy warming root vegetables in the Autumn? These help prepare us for the coming winter months.
Western diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are virtually non-existent among the Hazda people
Eating in tune with the seasons also makes for a healthy gut. The importance of gut health is becoming widely recognised and science is showing the impact of an unhealthy gut on all systems of the body, including our mental health.
Stanford university have been studying the Hazda people (a group of hunter gatherers in Tanzania) and have discovered that their gut microbes change throughout the year. They had more enzymes to break down animal made carbohydrates in the dry season (when they ate more starchy vegetables and wild game) and other enzymes to break down plant based food in the wet season (when their diets favoured berries and honey).
This study has shown how one’s gut flora can change in a positive way at different times of year when eating a variety of seasonal foods. Western diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are virtually non-existent among the Hazda people and other hunter-gatherer populations, showing that a diverse gut flora is imperative for a healthy body and mind. Eating a varied diet throughout the year is hugely beneficial. And one thing you can guarantee with eating seasonally, is you won’t get bored of what you’re eating.
So as you can see, choosing to eat seasonally provides us with many more benefits than just cheaper groceries and a cleaner planet. It gives our bodies a much-needed boost in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that many of us in the Western world are lacking.