It’s that time of the year again! As the temperatures drop and the sun sets sooner, the realization that fall is squarely upon us is evident all around us.
Fall often brings to mind the idea of such tasty treats as pumpkin-spiced lattes and homemade sugar cookies — delicious, no doubt, but devoid of nutrients to really nourish our bodies. On the flip side, recipes with seasonal fare, including ingredients such as squash, pumpkin, and warm soups, flood our TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook feeds. And while those are much healthier choices than sugar-laden beverages and baked goods, you may wonder, is the seasonal food craze you see in front of you worth the hype?
Before you go full-tilt on the fall food options, let’s take a deeper look at why seasonal eating was once necessary and discuss some things to consider when deciding what to eat this time of year.
Why Seasonal Eating was Once Necessary
Historically, our ancestors engaged in foraging, the act of relying on nature to gather plants, small animals, and insects for consumption. Our ancestors relied heavily on what was in season and what grew in their geographical area, giving them no choice but to eat seasonally to survive. It is this rich history that has formed the foundation upon which the idea of eating with the seasons was built.
Predominantly, our ancestors relied on plants and consumed herbs, fruit from the trees in the forest, and a wide variety of vegetables, giving them access to a range of nutrients at certain times of the year. Since food wasn’t available consistently, it was necessary to eat this way, as they were unsure of when their next meal would come and needed nutrition to power their daily endeavors.
But these days, we have the luxury of going to the store any time of the year to purchase the foods we long for, so we’re no longer restricted to eating what’s in season. Whether it’s July or November, we can consume the healthful foods we love all year — a concept that would likely be lost on our ancestors but allows us to get a full spectrum of protective plant phytochemicals at any time.
Is Seasonal Eating Optimal for Your Health?
Seasonal foods are purchased and consumed in close proximity to when they were harvested, and they include vegetables such as pumpkin, winter squash, beets, carrots, and potatoes. Many people feel that eating seasonally is the way to optimize health.
Though consuming seasonal vegetables and fruits can be fun, the truth of the matter is that you may need more variety in the plants you eat. “I question the true health value of seasonal eating,” says Dr. Bill Rawls, medical director of Vital Plan. “It’s fun to follow the seasons, but our ability to nourish ourselves with nutritious foods is better than it’s ever been, and we don’t need to miss out on all those beneficial plant compounds.”
While there’s no harm in eating some seasonal foods, we have a few recommendations about how to boost your phytochemical and nutrient intake no matter what time of year it is.
1. Consume a Range of Plants Year Round.
Regardless of the season, it’s imperative to focus on consuming a plethora of diverse vegetables to ingest an abundance of phytochemicals, dietary fiber, and vitamins essential to bodily function and great gut health. “Oftentimes, many people eat a diet limited to three or four plants, creating a lack of diversity in their consumption,” says Dr. Rawls. Consuming a wide array of plants, no matter the season, allows you to nourish your cells, reduce toxins, lower cholesterol, and decrease the risk of various diseases in ways no vitamin can.
2. Fill Your Plate with 50% Vegetables.
Tracking your food can feel restrictive and overwhelming. To make it as easy as possible, Dr. Rawls suggests eating 50% of your meals in the form of vegetables. Those who eat a variety of vegetables tend to have a very favorable microbiome, says Dr. Rawls.
Furthermore, our cells are constantly bombarded by radiation and toxins and frequently experience assault, creating cellular stress. “Plants are the best chemists on the earth, as they produce a wide range of phytochemicals to protect against free radicals,” Dr. Rawls says. Plants mesh well with our biochemistry, and eating them boots our cellular defenses.
As you fill up your plate with vegetables, feel free to include some of the seasonal vegetables you enjoy, but ensure that you diversify and increase your vegetable intake to take advantage of the positive effects they have on the body.
3. Eat Immune-Boosting Foods.
We’re constantly battling a variety of potentially harmful microbes on a daily basis, and we rely on our immune systems and good cellular health to keep foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites at bay. Our immune systems uphold protective barriers, such as mucus production to trap pathogens, stomach acid to destroy microbes, and more.
To maintain these lines of defense, it is important to prepare the body for potential microbial attacks by ingesting foods high in micronutrients such as vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin D, to name a few. When consuming a diet rich in plants, you’ll foster a more favorable microbiome, which also contributes to immune function and equips you with a variety of nutrients critical to the growth and function of immune cells.
When considering what foods to eat to boost immunity, it may be beneficial to think of things in terms of nutrients:
Vitamin C, for example, supports cellular functions and the immune system, maintains the epithelial barrier against pathogens, and protects against oxidative stress, according to the medical journal Nutrients. Foods high in vitamin C include citrus, melons, tomatoes, bell peppers, and broccoli.
Another key nutrient, zinc, is known to play a large role in the immune system, as those deficient in zinc tend to be quite susceptible to infection. To increase your intake of this nutrient, consume beans, nuts, or tofu.
Lastly, vitamin D plays a crucial role in immune function by contributing to the body’s antimicrobial response. In fact, lower levels of vitamin D have historically been associated with higher rates of infection. To combat this, you can consume foods such as fish and eggs.
4. Build Up Your Defenses with Herbal Therapy.
It is no secret that plants are a powerhouse when it comes to equipping humans with ample nutrients, and herbs are no different. If you’re working to achieve optimal health, there are a few herbs that could contribute significantly.
When considering which herbs to take, the following are a high priority on Dr. Rawl’s list of daily herbs:
Native to Siberia and northern latitudes, rhodiola is known to reduce fatigue, increase tolerance to physical stress, and protect both heart and nerve cells.
A remarkable fungus, reishi mushroom has been a staple in eastern medicine, as it has properties to boost the immune system, fight fatigue, improve mood, and more.
Made popular for its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric is a great herb to take daily, as it protects bodily cells while reducing inflammation in the body. Known as a key ingredient in Indian curries, it is believed to have contributed to the fact that the rates of Alzheimer’s and cancer experienced in India are some of the lowest in the world.
Milk thistle is a powerful herb that aids in both protecting the liver and inducing the regeneration of new liver cells. The liver plays a key role in detoxification, which is paramount to optimal health.
Known to support brain health and protect all cells in the body, gotu kola is a powerful Indian herb and is a great addition to your daily herbal intake.
5. Reduce Processed Sugar Intake.
Remember the pumpkin-spiced lattes and homemade sugar cookies we mentioned earlier? Though eating seasonal foods such as those can be fun and comforting, processed sugar has crucial implications for bodily functions, including heart health. For instance, people who consumed 17% – 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease in comparison to those who consumed as low as 8%, according to a 15-year study conducted by Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Americans over the age of two should reduce their sugar intake to less than 10% of their total daily calories, recommends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Keep an eye out for the processed sugar in items such as soups, bread, cured meats, and even ketchup, and fill your meals with various vegetables, opting for a serving of fresh fruit if you need to get your sugar fix.
Ultimately, eating seasonally was a necessity for our ancestors, but our world is now filled with a variety of foods available all year round. Take advantage of this accessibility to nourish your body and facilitate vital cellular health by eating a range of vegetables, herbs, and protective plant phytochemicals no matter what time of year it is.
Discover more in Dr. Bill Rawls’ new #1 Bestselling book: The Cellular Wellness Solution: Tap Into Your Full Health Potential with the Science-Backed Power of Herbs.
“An eye-opening and empowering book that the world needs right now: The Cellular Wellness Solution will fundamentally change how you think about herbs and the powerful role they play in cultivating wellness at the cellular level.”
Mark Hyman, MD
Fourteen-time #1 New York Times Bestselling Author
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