We are nearly half way through November. I really can’t believe it! I still remember going through my new year’s resolutions and it is nearly time to make another list. For sure, one of the points will be to try and eat seasonal and local food as much as possible. We have evolved to eat with the seasons but in the past few decades industrialised farming and export have allowed us to have foods available all year round. In some ways there are some benefits. We’ve got more variety and we can enjoy some of the amazing fruit and vegetables that don’t grow in the UK.
On the other hand though, those foods are often picked under ripe so that they can be transported over long distances. Because of that, they are often treated with different chemicals to either make them ripen at the right time or to make them look more appealing. Irradiation is also common practice to eradicate germs. They are often stored for long periods both abroad and once in the UK. All these factors contribute to nutrient loss, so while we may be thinking that our juicy oranges are rich in vitamin C that is going to keep our immune system healthy, by the time they reach our tables there may be no vitamin C in them at all. Some nutrients are more prone to damage than others. The water soluble vitamins such as vitamin C and B vitamins are the most sensitive ones. For example spinach can lose up to 53% of folate after 8 days in chilled storage. Similarly broccoli picked in autumn was found to be nearly 50% higher in vitamin C than the one picked in spring.
Produce that is out of season here can sometimes travel for over 1000 miles to be delivered to our shops. At the moment if you want to get green beans they are almost certainly coming from some exotic countries like Guatemala or Kenya, and peaches from as far as Argentina or South Africa. Long journeys, mean lots of petrol and energy. That equals high carbon footprint. Although we can’t avoid exporting foods from overseas, we have a choice. Sometimes buying frozen organic fruit and veg may be a better option as it’s been shown that because they are frozen at very low temperatures at source, many of the nutrients are spared.
Why is seasonal food best?
- It is higher in nutrients.
- It is better for the environment
- It is cheaper
- It tastes better
Although we all enjoy having the option of buying our favourite foods whatever the month, trying to pick more seasonal produce should be our priority.
I’ve picked a few examples of what is available at the moment and chose some recipes for you to try.
Pumpkin – it was Halloween just a couple of weeks ago so hopefully we’ve all had our share of some yummy pumpkin. But the season has just started and I will definitely be enjoying more pumpkin and squash in the coming weeks. Their orange colour is attributed to a high content of carotenoids – plant chemicals (phytochemicals) also found in carrots, sweet potatoes and surprisingly green leafy vegetables such as chard or kale.
Carotenoids act as antioxidants, but your body can also convert some of them to Vitamin A which is vital for healthy eyesight, immune system, skin, DNA processing and more. They are also a rich source of vitamin B6, vitamin C and trace minerals such as copper and manganese.
Here are some delicious recipes for you to try:
Venison – widely available now, game, including venison is sustainable, nutrient rich and high protein meat option. Dears roam freely and feed on a variety of plants, nuts and acorns. This diverse diet and plenty of exercise give the meat very distinct flavour but also great nutritional benefits. Venison meat tends to be leaner and hence it is higher in protein. Depending on the cut it contains up to 85% of protein, in comparison to beef which is only 40-50%. It is also naturally higher in Omega 3 fats. This makes it a perfect seasonal choice, especially for athletes or people with higher protein requirements.
Celeriac is largely underestimated. It may not look pretty but it is very versatile and if cooked cleverly it can taste amazing. Rich in calcium, phosphorus, potassium and fibre, this knobbly root is a great seasonal veg to use in a mash, as chips or in stews.
Pears are not only great for desserts but also a perfect addition to smoothies or salads. They are a good source of copper which is important for bones, connective tissue and antioxidant production. Their relatively high fibre content also slows down absorption of sugar which makes them a low GI fruit. Ideally if you have it as a snack I would still recommend having some protein and fats alongside. Nuts are a good option.
Cabbage – although it is not on most people’s list of favourite veg, it is a true superfood. Rich in vitamin K, C, manganese, folate, but more importantly plant chemicals called sulphoraphanes. These are amazing little chemicals that help us to detoxify toxins and our own hormones. It can be easily fermented– as sauerkraut or Asian kimchi and once it goes through that process it is full of friendly bacteria and more bio-available nutrients.
Beetroot – I absolutely love beetroots! Their health benefits are endless, from supporting heart health to improving nutrient delivery during exercise (if juiced and drunk before exercise). This is because of their high nitrate content which increases dilation of arteries and improves circulation. They also have a high concentration of another type of phytochemicals called betalains. These have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and detoxifying properties. High iron in beetroot makes it a perfect choice for those who tend to be low in this nutrient as well as vegans and vegetarians. If you haven’t tried a beetroot chocolate cake yet, you might be up for a surprise!
Decadent Beet and Chocolate Cake (swap spelt for rice/buckwheat or almond flour for a gluten free cake)
Kale – Kale’s sales sky rocketed over the past couple of years, and no surprise! It is another superfood. It is rich in vitamin K, C, A, B vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium, to list a few. As well as those, it contains many plant chemicals such as chlorophyll, zeaxanthin, lutein and indole-3-carbinole, making it an ideal nutrient dense food if you want to support your eyes, immune system or liver. There are also several varieties available now, so you can choose from purple kale, cavolo nero or the most popular – curly kale.
 Messer A. Storage time and temperature effects nutrients in spinach. 2015. Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
 Wunderlich S.M. et al. Nutritional quality of organic, conventional and seasonally grown broccoli using vitamin C as a marker. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. 2008: 59(1).