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Well Being Articles: Nutrition

Eating with the Seasons

By Lela Rabie

Whether we are aware of it or not, most of us probably eat seasonally to a certain degree by choosing the fruit and vegetables which are most available, and most reasonably priced, at different times of the year. However, consciously choosing to eat seasonally, has many benefits and takes surprisingly little effort!

Organic Food eating with the seasons

Nature has a habit of providing us with exactly what we need, when we need it, the onus is on us to pay attention! In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) Spring is seen as the season of movement and new beginnings, it is related to the Wood Element, which governs the liver and gall-bladder, both organs which play a significant role in detoxifying the body and supporting our various body systems.1 During Spring, there is an abundance of fruits, green leafy vegetables grow well and these foods just happen to be wonderful as part of cleansing and detoxifying diets. In addition the foods in season during Spring, are usually foods with a high water content, meaning that we can be better hydrated through our diets, as temperatures start to rise. By following Natures lead during Spring, we can naturally assist our bodies in losing some of the Winter weight gain as well as cleansing our systems to enable their optimum functioning throughout the year.

It isn’t only fruit and vegetables which have a season, below follows a list of some of the foods in season in South Africa during Spring:

  • vegetables:
    asparagus, artichoke (globe), baby marrow, beetroot, beans, broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, courgettes, cucumber, endive [limited], garlic, green beans, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, mielies, new potato, onion, parsley, parsnips, peas, potato, pumpkin, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, Swiss Chard, squash, spring onion, sweet potatoes, turnips, waterblommetjies
  • fruit:
    avocados,apricots, bananas, Cape gooseberry, cherry, grapefruit, guava, kumquats, kiwi, lemons, limes, melons, mulberries, naartjies, oranges, paw paw, peaches, pineapple, plums, rhubarb, spanspek, strawberries, tomatoes, watermelons
  • herbs:
    basil (perennial), bay leaves, bloody sorrel, bulb fennel, calendula, cat mint, chives, dandelion, dill, fennel, French tarragon (limited), garden cress, garlic chives, lavender, lemon grass stems, lime leaves, marjoram, mint, mustard – green & red, nasturtiums, nettle, oreganum, parsley, rocket, rosemary, sage, sorrel, thyme, winter savoury
  • fish:
    Cape salmon, elf, hake, haarders, hottentot, kabeljou, kingklip, monkfish, musselcracker, red roman, red steenbras, skate, snoek, sole, stumpnose, tunny, trout, tuna, tunny, yellowtail (galjoen – protected species)
  • poultry & meat:
    beef, chicken, guinea fowl, mutton, pheasant, partridge, venison
  • nuts:
    almonds 2

The above list was taken from the website www.naturalnutrition.co.za, please see the references section of this article for a link to the full list.

The Chinese system of healing recognises five seasons as opposed to the Western four by making a distinction between Early Summer and Late Summer. During these times of the year, the Fire and Earth Elements are indicated and these govern the heart and small intestine, and spleen and stomach respectively.1 In Early Summer, the growth and expansion which started in Spring, continues and Nature’s bounty reflects this with plenty of juicy fruits such as a variety of melons becoming more available in stores and on markets. If we listen to our bodies and Natures guidance at this time we will assist ourselves in having plenty of energy to fully enjoy the long summers days.

Late Summer is when the more ‘starchy’ and less ‘watery’ foods start to make an appearance and by eating these we are helping our bodies to start slowing down, preparing for the more sedate pace which Autumn naturally brings as well as adding a few extra kilos with which to withstand the coming Winter temperatures.

The season of Autumn acts as the bridge between Late Summer and Winter, allowing our bodies to adjust to less fresh produce and more cooked foods. This is the time when the body prepares for ‘hibernation’ and we tend to become more introspective. Autumn is related to the Metal Element, which governs the mind, lungs, colon and skin.1 All of these have a connection both to our inner and outer experience, the lungs take in air from outside, to distribute oxygen inside and eliminate carbon dioxide to the outside, the colon takes in nutrients and excretes waste, the skin forms a physical barrier and aids in the elimination of various toxins and the mind processes information from our outside world and relays it to our inner world. By following the diet prescribed by what Nature provides in this season, we will enable our bodies to build up the strength and immunity needed during Winter as well as assist ourselves in transitioning from the more expansive energy of the warmer months to the more introspective and calm energy of this time of year.

With the onset of Winter, it is the turn of the vegetables more suited to soups and stews, there are less fruits available and those that are, such as lemons, oranges and paw-paws are high in immune boosting nutrients such as Vitamin C, and who hasn’t used a mixture of honey and lemon when we feel a sore throat coming on? In TCM Winter is the season of the Water Element which governs the kidneys and bladder.1 Our systems slow down somewhat, we are naturally inclined to do less physical activity and the ‘heavier’ foods available around this time are perfectly suited to such sentiments.

Eating in accordance with what Nature provides at different times of the year, is clearly beneficial to us but how does this work on a practical level?

Support markets

By buying your fresh produce from a local farmers market, you are mostly guaranteed food that is seasonal and which hasn’t travelled hundreds of kilometres to get there. In this way, not only are you supporting your own health by eating seasonally, you are also saving money as seasonal food is usually cheaper than its out-of-season counterparts. In addition, you are helping to build your local micro-economy as your support enables farmers to continue producing high quality fresh and seasonal produce.

Grow your own

Even flat dwellers can have a window box or two of fresh vegetables and herbs. Not only does growing your own vegetables bring a tremendous sense of satisfaction, it is seriously good news for your health! By growing your own vegetables, you are assured that they are seasonal and are thus providing you with the optimum nutrients needed at a particular time of year.

Supermarket savvy

Should you not have access to a local farmers market and don’t see yourself as the green-fingered type, it is still possible to shop seasonally. As a general rule of thumb, seasonal produce is usually more abundant and better priced than that which is not in season at the time. Thus, when shopping in your local supermarket, opt for the fruit and vegetables which are cheapest and most available. If in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask questions, the more often consumers ask these questions, the more likely supermarkets are to cater to our needs.

Online shopping

Should you prefer to do your shopping online, try to buy from local box schemes which deliver in your area. Ask specifically for boxes which contain only seasonal foods and, should you wish to support local initiatives only, add this to your requirements as some companies do bring produce from further afield to fill a demand.

Companies like Organic Emporium (www.shoporganic.co.za/organicemporium ) offer deliveries of seasonal produce.

A win-win concept

Whether you choose to eat strictly seasonally all of the time, or occasionally indulge in a strawberry in July, knowing which foods are in season and trying to incorporate these into your diet on a regular basis, can only benefit your health and your pocket, not to mention the environment at large. In my book, that is a very firm, ‘no reason not to!’

References:

1 – Traditional Acupuncture, The Law of the Five Elements by Dianne M. Connelly, PH.D, Tai Sophia Institute, 7750 Montpelier Road, Laurel, Maryland 2073, 1994, ISBN – 0-912381-03-5.

2 - http://www.naturalnutrition.co.za/recipes/seasonal-chart/ - offers a complete list of foods in season in South Africa throughout the year.

Other interesting websites:

http://aspirantlocavore.wordpress.com