Scientist and chef Toral Shah of The Urban Kitchen explains why eating seasonal food really is better for your body and bank balance, and shares her top tips on 5 nutrition-packed foods you need to be eating now.
In this modern world filled a range of convenience foods, it has become difficult to know what a healthy diet is. It’s so easy to rely on processed convenience foods and supplements or to flip the other way and cut out valuable food groups such as carbohydrates, fats, and only focus on eating ‘superfoods’.
We are often advised to eat seasonally, not just for flavour but for the added health benefits. However, with year-round availability of strawberries and asparagus in supermarkets, we seem to have lost touch with nature and when local foods are in season.
There’s also the discussion about whether organic food has higher levels of nutrients than those grown conventionally with pesticides. There are many factors that affect the nutrient quality of our food, including how often the crops are harvested, the weather and the variety of the crop.
So, why does eating seasonally matter nutritionally and what other factors affect the nutrition of our food?
Many studies review the nutrient status of organically and conventionally produced foods with varying results. A review published in 2011 of a near 30 year study found that the micronutrient levels of vegetables and legumes was higher in organic produce than in those conventionally produced. A micronutrient is a nutrient which is required by the body in small quantities for it to function well. Whilst much more research is needed to compare different agricultural practices and the impact on our health and well-being, this review did consider harvesting, crop varieties and soil conditions.
To truly demonstrate why eating seasonally is better for you nutritionally, we need to consider research that looks as just one micronutrient in one food and is analysed at different seasons.
A study in 2008 looked at both organic and conventionally grown broccoli in spring and in autumn in USA. The study used vitamin C as a biomarker to test whether the nutrient status changed as it is present in high quantities but degrades quickly compared to other nutrients. The broccoli harvested in autumn had higher levels of vitamin C for both those grown organically and conventionally produced. Vitamin C is sensitive to being stored so it’s better to eat sources of food that are both local and seasonal.
Food in season often comes as a glut at it’s seasonal peak – reducing the price whilst being full of flavour and nutrients. If we eat seasonally, we can reduce our food bills to take advantage of this glut and ensure that we are getting as much of nutrients possible from each food source. Freezing these foods maintains the majority of the nutrients so it’s one way of making the most of seasonal foods.
September is a fabulous month for not just fruit and vegetables but also for game, seafood and nuts.
Here are my top 5 groups of foods to eat now:
Seasonal vegetables like squash and pumpkin are extremely rich in antioxidants and potassium, which maintains your body’s fluid balance as well as your nervous and circulatory systems, and vitamin B6 which also supports your immune system. Most importantly, orange fruits and vegetables like seasonal squash and pumpkin contain both α-carotene and β-carotene which are protective against cancer. Carotenoids such as lutein also boost eye health.
Apples are an amazing source of vitamin C – one medium apple provides you with about 14% of your daily intake. Vitamin C is important for wound healing, maintenance of connective tissue and protecting cells. Apples are also full of soluble fibre, which reduces cholesterol. A recent review in British Journal of Nutrition suggested that high consumption of apples protected against some types of cancer, particularly digestive tract cancers.
Hazelnuts and cobnuts are hugely nutritious and rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which help to lower LDL and bad cholesterol and increase HDL or good cholesterol. They are also rich in folate unlike other nuts – 100g contains about 28% of your daily recommended intake of folate. These seasonal nuts are also high in all the B vitamins, vitamin E and minerals such as manganese, copper and iron.
I am a huge advocate of game for all its health and environment benefits. It’s extremely lean, nutrient dense, iron and protein rich. As game is often wild, it is a free-range happy meat which doesn’t contain any of the hormones or artificial feeds of processed and farmed meats. It is also much healthier too due to the improved balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Seafood is abundant in beneficial nutrients like zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. Zinc is another immune system booster, which also regulates cell production and maintains muscles. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain function, and are thought to prevent depression along with cardiovascular health.
Given that the health benefits of locally produced seasonal food are clear due to higher levels of micronutrients, which are essential for good health, the added financial saving makes it a clear choice for me. So go ahead, eat local, seasonal food to improve your health and bank balance!
Other foods available in season on Farmdrop – blackberries, butternut squash, courgettes, salad leaves, kohlrabi, runner beans, potatoes, sweetcorn, pears, plums, raspberries, apples, hazelnuts, mackerel, plaice and coming soon, game, crab.
See Toral’s healthy and delicious seasonal recipes on our website:
- Low Carb Breakfast Burrito
- Banana Power Pancakes
- Spiced Salmon, Cauliflower & Kale Salad
- Herby Steak Salad
- Pear, Blue Cheese & Pecan Salad
- Plum Gratin with Thyme Crème Anglaise
Toral Shah is a scientist and chef – she has a BSc in Cell Biology from UCL and an MSc in Nutritional Medicine from University of Surrey. Her MSc thesis focussed on the importance of diet and nutrition in the prevention of breast cancer recurrence. She is the founder of healthy food brand, The Urban Kitchen – www.theurbankitchen.co.uk. Toral is now working on her first book explaining the science behind cancer preventing foods and sharing some of her recipes.