We’re so accustomed to seeing the produce department full of our favorite fruits and vegetables that we don’t often stop to think how amazing it is that we can buy fresh kiwis and grapes during Polar Vortex-type temperatures. But should we actually be buying these “fresh” fruits?
We tend to think that fresh produce is better, but that’s not necessarily always true. Next time you’re checking out that tiny five dollar box of raspberries, take a look at the label to find out the country of origin. It probably came from Chile or another country in the Southern Hemisphere. That means that in order to get here, it needed to be ferried over 7,000 miles across land and sea. In a world of dwindling natural resources and soaring gas prices, we should think twice before buying food that needs to travel that far.
Furthermore, for that “fresh” fruit from Chile or, perhaps, New Zealand to arrive in a local grocery store in a salable condition, it needed to be harvested long before it was ripe. Therefore, very little of the natural sugars, vitamins, and antioxidants have had a chance to develop, so you wind up with a tasteless and dissatisfying product lacking any significant nutrition (and you still pay a premium price for it!).
Instead, start thinking seasonally, and buy only what is available from our own hemisphere. That might mean going without certain fruit, but remember that while those Southern Hemisphere fruits may look good, they probably aren’t what you’re hoping for. By the time domestic grapes and kiwis are available, they’ll taste that much better because you’ve been waiting for them!
A good rule of thumb to tell what’s in season is what’s cheap at the grocery store. A big mountain of oranges that are on-sale are probably in season in North America.
Here are some items that are currently in season:
- Early spring produce such as asparagus and rhubarb
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower
- Root vegetables such as beets, carrots, onions, parsnips, sweet potatoes and turnips
- Hearty greens such as collards and kale
- Citrus fruits such as grapefruit, lemons, oranges and tangerines
- Lettuces and herbs are also safe choices, as those can be grown year-round in warm states and in greenhouses.
Additionally, consider buying American-grown frozen produce. Frozen fruit usually comes from domestic produce, and is harvested and frozen at the peak of freshness. And when it comes to smoothies and muffins, frozen fruit is a much healthier choice. Just check the labels to make sure the frozen fruit you’re considering is, in fact, from our own continent.
While it may seem this interminable winter will never end, spring will come. Then we can indulge in all the warm-weather fruits and summer vegetables we love. Until then, buy only the fresh produce that’s in season, or get it frozen. Your earth and your body will thank you.
Nourishing Thoughts is written by Julie Miller, an expert on nutrition and fitness instructor at the C.W. Avery Family YMCA.