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When is the Best Time of Year to Eat Certain Produce?

When is the Best Time of Year to Eat Certain Produce?

Many Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, but buying produce based on its season can help increase nutritional value.

Eating fruits and vegetables is a critical part of having a healthy diet. However, it can be easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to the fruits and vegetables you are used to eating and preparing daily. One way to break out of a continuous loop of bananas, apples, and baby carrots is to eat produce in season. This will force you to mix up what you’re eating, and it will also ensure that you’re eating foods when they are the freshest and the most nutritious.

At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we are dedicated to helping our patients live well and avoid developing chronic diseases. A large part of living well is being deliberate about what you eat. Here’s what you need to know about the importance of eating produce, the best time of the year to eat certain produce, and why trying new fruits and vegetables when they’re in season can have immense health benefits.

The Problem of Produce Consumption in America

Health experts recommend that adults eat 1.5 to 2 cups of fruits daily and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables daily. However, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only one adult out of every 10 meets this benchmark daily. Unfortunately, not eating enough fruits and vegetables –and filling the void with other types of food that may be less nutritious—can have negative health consequences. In fact, the CDC notes that seven of the top 10 leading causes of death in the US are due to chronic illnesses that could be prevented if people could optimize their lifestyles and diet.

The Philosophy Behind Varying Produce Choices

As humans, we all tend to get a little tired of what we’re eating if we eat the same thing every day. Unfortunately, if you get bored of eating the same fruits and vegetables, you risk falling off the wagon when it comes to achieving your recommended daily intake. For this reason, it can be helpful to rotate the produce you buy and consume fruits and vegetables based on the particular season of the year. This can broaden your horizon and force you to try new things. Eating in this pattern can also ensure that you get the most out of what you eat from a nutritional standpoint. And, buying food when it’s in season—and, therefore, in abundance—is usually more affordable, too.

Why Eating Produce When It’s In Season Is Better

In today’s world of global trade, even when you live in the Northern hemisphere, you can still go to a grocery store and buy produce that is not technically “in-season” in your local region. You likely don’t have to think too hard when you put a spaghetti squash in your cart—you do it. However, fruits and vegetables that are not in season in your local area must travel a great distance to reach your local grocery store. As they travel, they are stored in cooled conditions, and they can begin to lose some of their nutritional value. For example, experts at the University of California, Davis, note that green beans that have been stored for seven days in a refrigerator lose up to 77 percent of their Vitamin C.

Research has shown that when you eat foods in season and therefore fresher, you can reap the maximum health benefits. Because in-season produce is more nutrient-dense, you can replenish your body’s stores of vitamins more effectively with every bite. Trying new fruits and vegetables as they come into season can be a great way to maximize the variety of vitamins and minerals you’re consuming. And, produce that is in season and has been freshly picked will also have a better taste.

The Best Time of Year to Buy Specific Produce

Living in California, you may be one step ahead of the competition regarding awareness of growing seasons. California is a rich agricultural state, with regions that produce many signature fruits and vegetables and then supply them to the rest of the country and world. You likely are aware that winter is “citrus season,” but you may not be up to speed on the nuances of when it’s better to eat a clementine versus a blood orange.

Citrus fruits have a wide variety of seasonality, as follows:

  • Navel oranges are in season from December to March
  • Blood oranges are in season from December to April
  • Clementines and tangerines are in season from October to January
  • Ruby red grapefruits are in season from October to April
  • Lemons and limes are in season all year long

Beyond just citrus, many other fruits and vegetables vary in their freshness according to the time of year. Here’s a helpful guide to when certain produce is in season in the United States, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Each listed produce item has a link to a specific page where you can learn more information about it, including how to store it to maximize its freshness and incorporate it into a new recipe.

Produce that’s in Season in the Winter

Wintertime is a great season to hunker down and make a soul-warming soup. Try cooking with some leeks, as well as the following:

Produce That’s in Season in the Spring

As the springtime rolls around, asparagus and rhubarb are at their peak freshness, as well as these other delicacies:

Produce That’s in Season in the Summer

Nothing says summertime like a juicy peach, tossed with cherries, blackberries, and blueberries. Look out for these other delicious treats, too:

Produce That’s in Season in the Fall

The fall brings festive holiday meals. Look to incorporate Brussels sprouts or yams into your feasts, as well as the following:

You’ll notice that some of the foods in the above lists appear in multiple seasons. They either have a continuous growing season or an extended harvest season. Finding one or two new fruits or vegetables to experiment with every time you go to the grocery store or farmer’s market can go a long way in expanding your palette and keeping you on target with your recommended daily intake of produce.

Other Ways to Increase Your Fruits and Vegetable Consumption

It can be hard to plan your life based on the seasonality of fruits and vegetables, especially if you have certain recipes and meals that you habitually prepare. Another way to vary your exposure to fruits and vegetables is to buy them frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked and then immediately frozen. Hence, they retain their nutrients better than many fruits and vegetables harvested and then spend days (or weeks) being transported and stored before they arrive in your kitchen. Buying frozen vegetables can help you ensure that you are maximizing their nutrition content and freshness. It can help you avoid the problem of produce going bad before you can eat it all, and it is also likely to be cheaper than fresh produce.

For more ideas about how to fill your plate with nutritious foods, check out the US Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate website and shopping tool.

Partnering with Lompoc Valley Medical Center for Nutritional Guidance

What you eat every day can contribute to your risk of developing chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. While this may seem intimidating at first glance, your ability to stay well is within your control. Ensuring that you’re getting enough fruits and vegetables every day can go a long way in warding off preventable diseases.

At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, our team of primary health care providers and nutritionists is devoted to teaching you how to live well and eat well. We are highly skilled at counseling patients on food choices and help you get on the right track for your diet.

Contact us today to learn more or connect with our outpatient dietitian services.