Eating foods in season is the best way to get the most nutrients, according to experts. Read on for the benefits of eating produce in season, and discover what's ripe for winter.
Local, seasonal and fresh
In times gone by, when farms were small and their practices fairly rudimentary, you actually couldn't buy any fruit or vegetable out of season. People ate foods only when they were in season.
These days, it is easy for us to forget about what's in season and what isn't, because everything is so readily available. Since the advent of macro farming methods, which include planting one crop all year round, you can head to a supermarket any day of any week and find almost any fruits and veggies that you can think of.
Yet seasonal produce is fresher, may have higher levels of beneficial nutrients and often tastes better. It also has health benefits. Naturopath and nutritionist Emma Sutherland explains how eating in-season foods is the best way to maximise nutritional absorption.
"When things are eaten and they're in season it basically means the phytonutrients — which are the health compounds — are allowed to develop to their full potential. They're exposed to the nutrients in the soil and sunlight for the right amount of time and picked at their peak."
Foods eaten out of season have a fraction of the nutritional value of seasonally-picked produce.
"We can get anything any time of year in Australia. For example, bananas and apples in Australia can be put in cold storage for up to 12 months. They may have been picked way before they're ripe from a farm which uses a lot of pesticides and sprays, to keep the harvest coming all year around, so you're missing out on a lot of nutrients there."
Aside from different farming methods, there's another reason seasonal produce is good for the body. We need more of certain nutrients during certain seasons. For example, in summer, melons and tropical fruits are in season. Both fruits are good because of their high water content and potassium (both perfect at replenishing our bodies' summer sweat). Citrus fruits — which ripen in winter — are full of vitamin C and immune-boosting powers.
Sutherland says a good way of knowing which fruits and vegetables are in season is to go to organic stores — they only stock what's in season.
So what are some seasonal foods to stock up on during winter's cold and flu season? Sutherland gives her pick of the crop.
Sutherland says kiwi is jam-packed with vitamin C.
"You need vitamin C during winter because it boosts the activity of your white blood cells. They're the ones that kill bad bacteria. If your white blood cells aren't doing surveillance properly you're more likely to get sick."
Citrus fruits, such as fresh lemons and oranges, are at their best in winter. Sutherland says to get the full benefit of fresh juice, make your own. And don't throw out the peel. Lemon zest is a great antibacterial agent. "Add lemon juice to your cooked vegetables for an extra boost," she says.
Sweet potatoes and pumpkin
"Sweet potatoes are my favourite," says Sutherland. "They have enormous levels of beta carotene which is a precursor to vitamin A."
Sutherland suggests a sweet potato mash with ginger to boost circulation during winter
"Red chilli is super high in vitamin C," says Sutherland. "Try rubbing it on your chicken or adding it to soups."