Recently, I got a question from a reader: How do I choose a piece of fruit? I’m going to answer this question in the next few days, but the first step is to read the labels. You want to choose fruits that are in season and grown as close to your home state as possible. Just like reading nutrition labels is a very important skill and a critical component of grocery shopping, reading a fruit or vegetable label is also important.
Eating seasonally is a wonderful thing to do. Our global marketplace allows us to purchase almost any fruit or vegetable at any time of the year, but by eating seasonally, we are more likely to eat foods that are fresh and local. We support local farmers and create a more sustainable eating system. Eating seasonally is the foundation of many wellness approaches, such as Ayurvedic medicine or the 3-Season diet. Our bodies change with the seasons, and we crave different foods at different times of the year. When the weather turns cold, we are drawn towards hot soups, chilis and stews. And as spring approaches, we start to eat more fresh salads and berries. This is very normal and is part of how our body adapts to the changing seasons.
When fruits and vegetables are not local, they take quite the trip to get to our grocery stores each week. Some of the produce you see may be weeks or even months old. The fruits and veggies travel an average of 1,500 miles to get to your store! Often they are picked when they are still green, and they ripen on their trip over. This may seem okay in theory, but remember that fruits and vegetables begin to lose nutrients the moment they are picked. A local strawberry that was picked a few days ago will have many more nutrients than a strawberry that has traveled from another country. Not to mention all the chemicals needed to preserve and protect a fruit for its long trip. Unripe fruits are also highly acidic and can actually leach nutrients out of our bodies when we eat them.
Tip: Learn what is in season in your particular city, and pay attention to country or state of origin stickers. For example, I know that I can get Colorado-grown apples most of the year, so if I buy an apple, I make sure it's from Colorado.
Eating seasonally also saves money. This is because you are not paying for high travel costs or the cost of ripening and preserving a fruit picked too early. Rather, you are paying a local farmer who simply harvests and distributes the fruits and vegetables. Foods can be grown in greenhouses out of season, but it costs more to do so and therefore their price tags at the grocery stores will go up. This is why berries are so much less expensive in the summer months. If you are a gardener, you know that growing your own food can save a lot of money. It does take a little time and effort, but being able to harvest fresh, organic fruits and vegetables from your own backyard is priceless.
Right now in our house we have bananas from Ecuador (these ones are about to go into our breakfast smoothie), grapefruits from Florida (we got a box as a gift - they are SO yummy) and apples from Colorado. Not bad!
Some fruits and vegetables are nearly impossible to obtain locally. For example, bananas are rarely grown in the United States, and some tropical fruits like pineapple or mango are often grown outside the country. Eating locally is something I try to do when possible, but of course I make exceptions.
So how do we know what’s in season in our city or state? There is a great website that can tell you this information. Go here to try it out. You simply enter your state and the current month, and it will give you a list of fresh, local fruits and vegetables. Right now in Colorado, we should be eating apples, pinto beans, potatoes and popcorn. It also shows what is fresh in bordering states. For Coloradans, this includes arugula, asparagus, beets, brussels sprouts, garlic, onions, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, swiss chard and turnips. Try entering your state and find out what's fresh!
Tomorrow I’ll talk more about how to choose the perfect piece of fruit or fresh vegetable at the grocery store.