Humans have lived under the influence of seasonal changes for millennia. The primary driver of seasonal change is the changing amount of sunlight we get throughout the year, and as you may know, sunlight is crucial for human health. Not only is it our main source of naturally occurring vitamin D (which is crucial for building and maintaining strong bones), sunlight is also important to the body as it sets our circadian rhythm. Viewing sunlight in the morning increases the production of melatonin later in the day, which is vital for restorative and peaceful sleep at night. Sun exposure also causes serotonin levels to increase in the body and can positively affect mood. So making sure to get outside every day, especially during the shorter winter days, is crucial for maintaining healthy energy levels as well as getting good sleep, which in turn will affect mood and energy during the day. It’s all interconnected!
Maybe it’s kind of a no brainer to you if you’re reading this blog, but living seasonally is a great way to connect to the human body. Just as daily intake of sunlight puts us in touch with our daily circadian rhythm, seasonal living can put us in touch with the rhythm of the year that we experience as human animals on this planet. Humans are naturally accustomed to the changes of seasons and the accompanying changes in temperature and hours of daylight. These seasonal changes affect plants as well. There are growing seasons and then there are seasons where parts of a plant will die or shut down. Living in this way, in sync with the available light and warmth of a given season, means that there are certain natural limitations on growth and productivity, and if this is true of what we eat, then naturally it applies to us as well. It’s important to remember that despite the external pressures of family, work, or lifestyle, that we are only human, and everyone needs and deserves periods of rest and recuperation. Taking down time, in whatever form works for you, is vital for restoring our bodies so that we can have the energy to do the things we want and love, let alone the things we are responsible for. If you recall from our previous article on the autonomic nervous system, resting and digesting is imperative for activating the parasympathetic nervous system and reaping those healing benefits.
Eating with the seasons actually prepares our bodies for the season we’re in. For instance in spring, there’s lots of new growth happening and greens are abundant. These new greens give the body a nutritional boost and prepare it for the increased activity that happens in the summer. In the summer, when it’s warmer, more fresh fruits and vegetables are available, and eating salads and lighter foods helps the body to stay cool and refreshed during the hot months. In the fall and winter we have heartier crops like cruciferous vegetables and squashes which require longer cooking and pair well with spices like cinnamon and clove to help keep us warm as the weather changes to cooler days. We eat more soups and stews to keep warm and less fresh vegetables as these are less available. Even though there are limitations in each season, nature provides what we need to stay healthy throughout the year.
Seasonal growing often occurs on smaller, localized farms, and buying seasonal produce is a great way to support these types of farms. Small farms tend to have growing practices, such as regenerative farming practices, that are overall more beneficial to the environment. For example, small scale farms don’t have giant monocrop fields depleting soil nutrients more quickly and are less desirable to pollinators. They often can grow foods without pesticides, which is better for us and the environment, and because they sell their produce to local markets, they tend to emit less greenhouse gasses since they don’t have to transport their food as far as some of the larger producers. When possible thinking through the interconnectedness of our decisions assists with One Health view and betterment of the planet for all.
Eating seasonally is a great way to get more in touch with your food, being more mindful and understanding where it comes from. Whether you’re actually getting your hands dirty and starting a garden for yourself, or you’re perusing your local farmers’ market for seasonal foods, learning more about what’s in season at any given time can put you closer in touch with what you’re putting into your body. When you buy foods that are in season, you know that they are fresh and full of vitality and nutrients. This ensures that you’re getting the maximum amount of nutritional value from your food.
Eating seasonally means that there’s a certain time of year where certain foods are in abundance. This can lead to lower costs when purchasing a food item that’s in season. Why not buy in bulk and use preservations techniques like freezing or canning to have seasonal foods on hand later in the year? Providing you with the freshest possible food preserved by you, so that you know there are no chemical additives, and you’ve saved money in the process. For instance lemons are abundant in the winter months making them fresher and more affordable. Preserving lemons increases their use outside of the winter months so you can enjoy all year long.
When we choose foods that are in season to put on our plate, we get more in touch with our environment which in turn can put us in touch with our own bodies. Being mindful of our choices in this way is a great way to learn more about ourselves, our preferences, and our habits. Especially when we choose locally grown, organic foods, we can have a positive influence on our own lives in the form of improved nutrition, but also on the lives of others because supporting smaller farms and businesses that provide seasonal produce means they will continue to be available for us and our communities. So visit your local farmers’ market when you can and see what new and fresh possibilities there are for your meals. It’s also a great way to get outside and take in some sunshine!