The Benefits of Eating Seasonal Foods
If you’re familiar with Ayurveda, you may have come across a concept within it known as ‘Ritucharya’. This states that the food we eat and lifestyles we lead should adapt to the seasons, because of the changes they bring to both nature and the human body .
Clinical studies are yet to evaluate this concept in more detail, but the research studied so far does somewhat validate it. Adherence to ritucharya may help with seasonal changes that affect our energy levels and gut microbiome, and enhance the positive effects of a standard ongoing treatment in asthma patients [2, 3, 4].
While this continues to be studied, here’s what we do know about the evidence-based benefits of eating seasonal foods:
Nutritionally dense: consuming foods during their appropriate seasons gives us a concentrated content of their nutrients, compared to when they’re off-season. For example, a study found that vitamin C was significantly higher in spinach that was sampled in the winter (which is the true season for spinach (436 mg/kg )), compared to when it was sampled in the summer (180 mg/kg) .
Naturally ripened: seasonal foods undergo a natural ripening process and are picked up at the right time. However, foods that are grown out of season undergo artificial ripening with the help of chemicals and gases, which means they often don’t match the taste or nutrition of naturally-ripened produce .
- Environment-friendly: One of the benefits of eating seasonal food is that it reduces greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE), because it does not require the high-energy input from the artificial heating or lighting that’s needed to grow them . Eating seasonal food also supports local farmers and markets while avoiding the fuel emitted when food is transported globally to deliver unseasonal foods to various regions .
Consuming foods when they’re at their peak level of nutrients is particularly important to our health. Each season comes with its own set of potential health risks, and the foods found in each are excellent at protecting us from them. For example, the summer has a high risk of dehydration and summer foods tend to have a really high water content. The monsoons have an increased risk of bacterial infections - and the produce at this time gives us higher levels of nutrients that improve our immunity.
More fascinating, yet, is an area of research that suggests that even the activity of our genes tend to change in the seasons, which corresponds to broad shifts in the type and quantity of immune cells our body produces .
All of this to say - there are many proven as well as theoretical benefits to eating seasonal fruits and vegetables!
Here are the list of seasonal foods we’re recommending for this particular time:
What to eat between mid-May to mid-July:
Most people don’t need a reason to eat more mangoes! But just in case you do -
A medium-sized mango is rich in vitamin C, which aids our immunity, iron absorption and the growth and repair of our tissues. It’s also a great source of beta-carotene (visually identifiable because of its yellow-orange colour), which gets converted to vitamin A - an important vitamin for eye health .
Mangoes also contain folate (vitamin B9), which helps the body form red blood cells and its DNA, and even supports cardiovascular health .
In addition, their decent amount of dietary fibre and antioxidants (mangiferin, catechins and quercetin are the names of some of the major ones) give mangoes anti-inflammatory effects as well as digestive health benefits, which go on to affect our overall health .
Apart from being so sweet that they could be passed off as an excellent dessert, lychees also come with a rich profile of nutrients.
82% of a lychee is pure water, making this fruit great at keeping us hydrated . It’s even rich in vitamin C and some truly potent antioxidants [14, 15]. Its polyphenols (plant compounds that are packed with antioxidants) may mean that lychees can help improve the health of our liver, our blood flow (which has implied cardiovascular benefits), and our spleen (which supports our immunity) [16, 17, 18, 19].
Melons are an especially helpful fruit on a hot day - their water content is over 90% !
Otherwise, melons are also a great source of carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and plenty of vitamins and antioxidants. These include vitamins C, B1, B3, B6 and B9, along with beta carotene and other antioxidants that belong to the family of flavonoids.
Eating the seeds of melons is a great idea too, to get their rich content of vitamin E .
Dark, juicy plums are a great source of antioxidants! In fact, the darker, the better - the pigment comes from polyphenols (like anthocyanin), which have powerful antioxidant effects on the body .
Because of these, consuming plums have been found to improve allergies, while consuming their dried form is also associated with improved bone health and cognitive function. These antioxidants may also help reduce inflammation in the body [22, 23].
Plums are also a good source of dietary fibre, making them an excellent option for patients of diabetes, since fibre helps prevent a spike in our blood sugar (and also keeps our cholesterol in check [24, 25, 26, 27].
Tart yet sweet, cherries are a rich source of polyphenols and vitamin C, both of which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They’re also loaded with potassium, which could make them helpful in lowering our blood pressure.
Cherries are also bursting with antioxidants that are being studied for their ability to help our overall health in a number of ways - improving our sleep along with cognitive function, and relieving muscle soreness after intense exercise are some examples of the effects that have been shown through early research .
Peaches are as healthy as they are delicious - they come with a number of powerful nutrients!
Some of these include potassium, choline and dietary fibre - all of which support our heart health [29, 30].
Their content of two antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin make them particularly great for eye health, while they also have a range of other antioxidants (from ‘anthocyanins’ to ‘catechins’, for anyone who’s interested) that could lower the risk of obesity-related diabetes and cardiovascular disease [26, 31, 32, 33].
Another monsoon favourite of ours, jamun are packed with antioxidants (especially flavonoids) as well as vitamin C, which makes them excellent at fighting free radicals [34, 35].
Some of its antioxidants (like anthocyanins) may even help improve our immunity and liver health [36, 37, 38, 39].
Jamun seeds also contain jambosine, gallic acid, ellagic acid and corilagin, all of which have been found to reduce the high blood sugar levels of diabetes patients in some early research [40, 41, 42].
You may also know it as ‘teasel gourd’ or ‘spiny gourd’; kantola is a green, cactus-like vegetable that’s full of nutrients!
These include a significant amount of a range of antioxidants (flavonoids included), B-vitamins, potassium, iron, zinc and several other compounds that may help fight multiple diseases - from diabetes to neurodegenerative diseases.
It isn’t surprising that this incredible vegetable has been used as a medicinal plant in Ayurveda for a number of purposes, including as a painkiller and to bring down a fever .
A vegetable that induces strong feelings on either side of the spectrum (i.e., you either love it or you don’t), bitter gourd comes with a truly rich profile of nutrients.
Along with its generous content of beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin B9 and potassium, bitter gourd also offers plenty of magnesium and phosphorus [44, 45]. Magnesium is a mineral that’s needed for over 600 reactions in the body - it’s incredibly important to our health ! We also need to consume plenty of phosphorus, which is needed by every cell in the body .
The presence of some plant compounds (alkaloids, glycosides, and triterpenes) also gives bitter gourd anti-microbial properties (which means it’s used to purify our blood) along with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects (due to its presence of cucurbitacins) [48, 49, 50].
Chulai (Amaranth Leaves)
Also known as ‘red chawli’ and ‘math’, amaranth has been cultivated as a grain in India for millennia .
Its leaves are a potent source of a multitude of nutrients like manganese, beta carotene, vitamins K, B9 and C, iron and magnesium [52, 53].
Its leaves have been traditionally consumed as a tea to counter several health issues (like indigestion, piles and to purify blood, as examples) that are now being studied by clinical research .
Amaranth extract can increase nitric oxide levels in the body, which in turn increase blood flow, enabling more oxygen and fuel to reach our muscles. This is particularly beneficial for athletes and individuals involved in sports, as it may help with improving their performance .
Colocasia Leaves (Taro Leaves)
A local vegetable that’s almost like a well-kept secret ingredient in Indian households, the leaves of the taro plant are incredibly healthy.
They’re filled with soluble dietary fibre, which has been found to help regulate digestive health (some of their effects include improving bowel movement and the consistency of stools) [56, 57]. This goes on to improve our overall health in several ways.
Even otherwise, taro leaves provide us with an impressive quantity of nutrients like calcium, potassium, vitamins C and B9, along with antioxidants like beta-carotene and other polyphenols .
While this closes our list of foods to eat this season, check back in to see what we’d recommend consuming from mid-July onwards! As always, we’d be happy to answer any questions you may have in the meantime - drop a comment below :)
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