We’ve heard for years that supporting local farms and businesses can offer great benefits to our immediate economies and communities, but there's another huge benefit to you personally: eating seasonally and locally is way better for your health.
The way we eat now is an anomaly––and it's taking a toll on our health.
The modern Western diet that's built on having relatively easy access to nearly any type of food, from anywhere in the world, at any time, in any season, is actually an anomaly in our history as a species.
Up until the last hundred years or so, most people ate locally out of necessity since we simply didn’t have the farming techniques or the logistical infrastructure to produce and ship foods the way we do now.
Societally, we’ve accidentally developed a diet that’s really hard on our bodies, using our unprecedented access to technology and produce to develop modified, processed foods that are low in nutritional density (think: GMOs, industrialized gluten, fast foods, the prevalence of sugar, etc).
In fact, a lot of the meat and produce that you find in your local supermarket are produced in ways that aren’t necessarily healthy for the plants or animals. And since you’re eating it, it’s not the best for you either!
Why Eat Locally?
Foods that are forced to develop out of season or picked before they're ripe are lower in the substances you do want...
Fruits and vegetables forced to ripen out of season or harvested before they’re ready often contain lower levels of vitamins and minerals: this is because the practices used to make them grow quickly make it harder for the plants to absorb nutrients from the soil. When you combine this with having a shorter growing season, these plants simply don’t have as much time to absorb nutrients, meaning that they are less nutritionally dense when they get to us.1
...and higher in substances you don't want.
Produce that's picked before it's ripe has higher levels of a substance called lectin. This is part of the plant's natural defense system––it protects the seeds in fruits and vegetables until the plant ripens enough for them to be passed on. When produce is allowed to naturally ripen, levels of lectin decrease, and the produce’s skin changes color. But when plants are picked early and then ripened artificially, those higher levels of lectins remain in the plant. This is a problem for the people eating them, since lectin can help create conditions that allow your gut microbiome to become unbalanced.2,3
Foods that are grown out of season usually need some help to make it to maturity, which is where pesticides and similar substances come in. While these are commonly used in growing foods, they're terribly destructive to your gut microbiome. For instance, organophosphates, the most frequently used type of pesticide in the world, has been shown to change the gut microbiome in such a way that makes people more susceptible to unwanted changes in blood sugar and difficulty moderating glucose.4 Other pesticides have been shown to alter the composition of the gut microbiome, leading to changes in metabolism, a reduction in immunity, and changes in the reproductive system.5
Even if you're trying to buy responsibly from big producers, there's only so much control you can have over what's in or on your food. Unless you're buying locally and seasonally, you just don't know what you're getting: there's a huge difference between buying food from a large, faceless company that may or may not have production standards that are optimal for your health and being able to talk to the person who’s grown and harvested your food themselves. So for the best chance at avoiding nasty surprises like unnecessary antibiotics in your food, stick with your local producers.
Not to mention that produce doesn't travel well.
All of these issues can happen before produce ever makes it off the farm. But your food’s journey doesn’t stop there! After being picked and processed, it’s shipped for days to get to supermarkets and restaurants, which requires it to be packed in toxic gases or other “preservative” measures.
And even if you set that issue aside, there's still the problem of nutrition. As soon as food is picked, its nutrition value begins to decline. When you're eating locally and seasonally, this isn't as much of a problem, since in many cases you can get food within a few days of it being picked. But when you buy food from other sources, it's often been several weeks since it was picked. Some things, like apples, can be stored for months before they ever make it to you!
Finding Your Seasonal Favorites
It can be easy to overlook your seasonal produce stars if you’re new to the whole eating local thing. So we’ve created a short list of foods from each season to help you incorporate more of these delicious foods into your day to day. And as an added bonus, they’re all great for your gut!
In the Spring, look for:
In the Summer, look for:
In the Fall, look for:
In the Winter, look for:
With so many options––not to mention health benefits––when it comes to eating seasonally and locally, there’s really no reason not to eat in tune with the season as much as you can. So why not try a new recipe with some seasonal produce, or make a plan to find your local farmer’s market this weekend? Your body will thank you, your local producers will love the support, and you’ll feel great in the bargain.
1. Mayer, A-M. 1997. Historical Changes in the Mineral Content of Fruits and Vegetables. British Food Journal 99(6). doi: 10.1108/00070709710181540
2. Banwell J.G., Howard R., Kabir I., Costerton J.W. 1988. Bacterial overgrowth by Indigenous Microflora in the Phytohemagglutinin-fed Rat. Canadian Journal of Microbiology 34(8).
3. Gundry, S. R. 2017. The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in "Healthy" Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain. New York, NY: Harper Wave.
4. Velmurugan, G. Ramprasath, T., Swaminathan, K. . . . Ramasam, S. 2017. Gut Microbial Degradation of Organophosphate Insecticides-induces Glucose Intolerance via Gluconeogenesis. Genome Biology 18(8). doi: 10.1186/s13059-016-1134-6.
5. Claus, S.P., Guillou, H., Ellero-Simatos, S. 2016. The Gut Microbiota: a Major Player in the Toxicity of Environmental Pollutants? npj Biofilms and Microbiomes 2(16003). doi: 10.1038/npjbiofilms.2016.3.
Rachel Allen is a writer at Hyperbiotics who's absolutely obsessed with learning about how our bodies work. She's fascinated by the latest research on bacteria and the role they play in health, and loves to help others learn about how probiotics can help the body get back in balance. For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.