With summer in full swing, and the increased availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in our area, I began to think about the benefits and limitations of consuming fruits and vegetables in-season, and out-of-season.
Plants contain chemical compounds called polyphenols that occur naturally. These polyphenols defend the plant from UV radiation and pathogens that would harm the plant. Studies suggest that when an individual consumes these plant compounds or polyphenols such as flavonoids and tannins, they convey protection against various chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer.
The health benefits conveyed through plant polyphenols are just one reason to consume fruits and vegetables regularly in the diet.
But, does eating a fruit or vegetable that is in-season versus out-of-season convey further benefits? Let’s take a look…
In-Season Fruits and Vegetables
In most areas in America today, we can go into the grocery store and purchase a vast array of fruits and vegetables from January through December. Some of this produce may be grown locally, while others may come from great distances. This fact alone can affect the nutrient content of the produce (think of the polyphenols mentioned above, as these are the most abundant antioxidants found in the diet!).
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends consuming more than 400 grams of fruits and vegetables each day (as an example, that would be about 3 cups of raw carrots or 2 ½ cups of blueberries) to improve health and reduce our risk for diseases.
The benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables in–season include:
In-season fruits and vegetables tend to be less expensive during the growing season when the crop is plentiful. So purchasing in-season produce will save you money.
In-season fruits and vegetables are fresher and taste better. Consuming local, fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables provides us with full, intact flavors that are then released as we consume them.
Purchasing produce that is in-season when the cost is lower can encourage us to “try” new foods, which can create diversity in our meal plans that broaden our menu from season to season and introduces a varied array of nutrients to better support proper growth and maintenance of the body.
Local, seasonal fruits and vegetables are allowed to ripen naturally, which allows more sun exposure and increased antioxidant levels making in-season produce more nutritious. Eating in-season, fresh fruit and vegetables provides us with the foods full complement of nutrients. For example, a 2008 study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition studied the nutritional quality of broccoli using vitamin C as a biomarker. The study found that the vitamin C content in the in-season broccoli was almost twice as high as the vitamin C content in the out-of-season broccoli.
You can use the online seasonal food guide to locate which foods are in-season near you here: https://www.seasonalfoodguide.org.
If you would like to find local farmers markets to purchase your in-season produce, you can locate them here: https://www.localharvest.org.
Out-of-Season Fruits and Vegetables
We have seen that out-of-season fruits and vegetables may not be a better choice than the in-season produce. The in-season produce has more to offer in freshness, taste, and nutrient content.
However, there are benefits to consuming out-of-season fruits and vegetables:
If you live in an area of the country that has long, cold and perhaps snowy winters, you may not have access to in-season fruits and vegetables during this period. So, consuming out-of-season produce during this period is better than not consuming any fruits and vegetables at all!
When purchasing produce, Dr. Joseph Mercola suggests choosing greener vegetables as they are more nutritious, avoiding wilted produce, and eating a variety of dark leafy greens and vividly colored vegetables to obtain a broader range of nutrients.
The Food Color Wheel can be a good visual of some nutrients found in foods with a certain color. For example, green vegetables contain nutrients such as chlorophyll, fiber, lutein, and magnesium; red produce contains lycopene and quercetin; purple and blue contain anthocyanins and other powerful antioxidants. Consuming a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables provides us with an array of nutrients that supports a healthy body.
So, the bottom line on which to choose, in-season or out-of-season produce, may be to choose and consume a vast array of colorful, in-season fruits and vegetables, but when they are scarce and unavailable, definitely choose to eat the out-of-season fruits and vegetables over no fruits and vegetables at all!
Psalm 145:15 “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.”
Pandey, K. B., & Rizvi, S. I. (2009). Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in human health and disease. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2(5), 270–278.
Izzah, A. N., Aminah, A., Pauzi, A. M., Lee, Y. H., Rozita, W. M. W., & Fatimah, D. S. (2012). Patterns of fruits and vegetable consumption among adults of different ethnics in selangor, malaysia. International Food Research Journal, 19(3), 1095-1107. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1315524444?accountid=158302