It has become commonplace to find foods like strawberries and salad vegetables on the supermarket shelves during the winter months which as well as further disassociating are understanding of seasonal foods may also impact on many other areas including nutritional quality, cost and British farming.
There is a train of thought that suggests seasonal foods contain nutrients that suit our bodies needs in accordance with the time of year (it is no coincidence that foods with a high water content are available during the summer month when we need extra hydration). Buying in season also means less travelling and storage, unlike the produce grown overseas which logic says will impact on the nutritional quality.
Aside from nutrition, food also offers social benefits and tradition that are lost when bought out of season. The comfort offered from a warming root vegetable stew seems less appealing during the summer months and who really wants to eat a crispy salad on a cold rainy day in January? Working in care homes I have seen first hand how food is associated with certain times and occasions during the year and can help residents with dementia navigate mealtimes and invoke valuable memories whether that’s turkey and sprouts at Christmas, strawberries during Wimbledon or haggis on Burns night. There is a good chance in generations to come these food occasions will become lost.
Eating in season also holds cost benefits. Indulging in May’s abundance of lovely thick stalks of asparagus is cheaper than the flimsy expensive offerings from Peru during the winter months or cherries in the summer at a fraction of the cost. Taste is also impacted, have you ever tasted a deliciously sweet tomato during the winter months?
So how can Mother Nature help to heal during the seasons?
It is an unavoidable fact of ageing that like other organs of the body our digestive tract becomes less effective at absorbing nutrients. This function can be further impaired by medication, reduced appetite or a lack of mobility. However, eating a highly nutritious diet and making every mouthful of food count will go some way to ensuring what goes in gets the best chance of delivering valuable nutrients where they’re needed. In some cases a basic age-specific multivitamin and mineral can be a useful way to ensure you are getting everything you need such as Healthspan’s MulitVitality 50 Plus.
Food is essential for survival and not just in terms of providing energy but nurturing the body to help with healing, warding off disease and helping to reduce the symptoms of some of the more common conditions.
Whilst there is no such thing as a superfood that will miraculously cure you of disease the examples below show how choosing certain foods in season may help with certain key areas of health.
January – healthy gut
These vegetables are often ignored as people are unsure what to do with them but they can be prepared in the same way as potatoes or parsnips and are delicious when roasted, mashed or made into soups. They are an excellent source of inulin often referred to as a prebiotic, which is an indigestible fibre that helps to feed bacteria responsible for maintaining a healthy gut.
February – heart health
This humble vegetable forms the basis of dishes from many world cuisines such as Chinese and Mediterranean. Many of the health benefits are attributed to the sulpher- containing compound allicin, which is responsible for the pungent smell and taste. Garlic is thought to act as an anti-coagulant preventing blood platelets form clumping together, improving circulation and reducing the risk of heart disease.
March – strong immune system and vitamin D deficiency
These vegetables are a good source of selenium, a potent antioxidant that plays a key role in maintaining a healthy immune system. Lots of research has been conducted around fibres found in mushrooms called beta-glucan polysaccharides, which are also thought to benefit the immune system. These clever fungi are also the only plants able to convert UV light from the sun into vitamin D, which is good news as many of us have been shown to be lacking in this vital nutrient.
April – indigestion
This herb is useful to help with bloating after meals as it relaxes the ‘valve’ between the gut and oesophagus offering relief from excess gas. Try brewing hot water along with fennel and caraway seeds.
May – heart health
The availability of British asparagus is short lived between the months of May and June. This vegetable is a rich source of vitamin K, which is essential for blood clotting and is also a good source of folate, which helps to breakdown the amino acid, homocysteine, excess of which is thought to be a risk factor for heart disease.
June – prostate health
These fruits are one of the richest sources of the anti-oxidant, lycopene, which the World Cancer Research Fund concluded has a probable effect of reducing the risk of prostate cancer.
July – healthy skin and joints
These vegetables are one of the richest sources of vitamin C. This nutrient is a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect the body from free radical damage. Vitamin C is also essential for the formation of collagen, the main structural protein of connective tissues in the body including those beneath the skin and joint cartilage.
August – blood pressure
Research has suggested that these vegetables may help to reduce blood pressure by way of their high levels of nitrates that increase nitric oxide in the body helping to widen blood vessels.
September – digestion
These brightly coloured veggies are a very rich source of fibre containing over 60% of your recommended daily intake in a single aubergine. The average intake of fibre in the UK is lower than the recommended guidance with a significant portion coming from less healthy sources such as chips, white bread and pizza. Fibre offers many health benefits but is essential for healthy digestion.
October – eye health
Like most orange vegetables, butternut squash are a rich source of the anti-oxidant beta-carotene. Research has shown that this nutrient may have a role to play in slowing down the progression of macular degeneration.
November – high cholesterol
These fruits are a rich source of the soluble fibre, pectin. This fibre is also present in pears and grapes and can help to reduce levels of cholesterol by binding in the digestive tract and carrying away through the bowl.
December – healthy bones
Whilst dairy foods are the most obvious sources of calcium, gram for gram kale provides a similar amount of this bone-friendly nutrient offering 15% of the NRV (nutrient reference value). Calcium is particularly important for women during the menopause (who can experience up to 10% bone loss) and beyond to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
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Rob Hobson is a Registered Nutritionist and Healthspan Head of Nutrition. His new book ‘The Detox Kitchen Bible’ is available on Amazon or find out more at http://nutritionexpert.healthspan.co.uk/heart-health-recipesLast modified: June 9, 2021