Eating with the seasons is more than a sales pitch at the grocery store. Consuming produce at the peak of their natural ripening process provides a higher nutrient profile and obviously, better taste. Learn more about how to optimize your produce haul this Spring with our list of the most nutrient-dense seasonal foods.
With a myriad of fruits and vegetables sold year-round in the U.S., it’s easy to assume all crops are naturally available every month of the year. And thanks to modern transportation and technology, most of our grocery shelves are stocked with consistent produce, regardless of the date. However, just because a fruit or vegetable is for sale doesn’t mean they are at their highest potential in nutrient density. The agricultural system in North America is designed to distribute relatively consistent food products, but that can mean produce is picked long before it is ready to be consumed, and ripened on trucks during transport. Picking local, seasonal produce is your best bet for consuming a fruit or vegetable as close to ripeness as possible, which is an important factor in its nutritional value. Typically, produce consumed at peak ripeness will be the most nutritious – and taste the best. To get the most bang for your bite – and buck – focus on the below fruit and vegetables as Spring turns its corner this year.
Artichokes are sometimes overlooked and underrated. At the peak of their season in March and June, artichokes are highly dense in anti-inflammatory phytochemicals and contain 25% of daily recommended intake vitamin C and vitamin K per serving, and serve as a substantial source of folate – important in red and white blood cell development and in converting carbohydrates to energy. (Bonus: they are also in season in the fall!)
Loaded with probiotics, vitamin C, K and A, asparagus are highly nutritious at their peak ripeness. Asparagus is also a significant source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, and can aid in weight loss and ease digestion. It’s relatively easy to determine if asparagus are in season and naturally ripened: out-of-season asparagus will be somewhat limp, while peak of season asparagus will be bright green and tender.
Lemons, like many citrus fruits, will only ripen on trees, and will not change in flavor once picked: adding even more importance to picking them at peak ripeness. While some lemon varieties are available year-round, the most common type reach ripeness in early spring. Obviously the most prolific nutrient in lemons is vitamin C – crucial for immune health. However, lemons also pack a punch of fiber, potassium and vitamin B6. They may also aid weight loss and reduce the risk of anemia, heart disease and possibly some cancers.
When harvested at its peak in early Spring, arugula contains a significant amount of calcium and potassium. Because arugula actually falls in the cruciferous vegetable group, like broccoli and cauliflower, it is a source of glucosinolates, a metabolite that may reduce the risk of lung, prostate, breast and pancreatic cancer.
Avocados harvested and consumed between January and March boast the best taste – and a higher nutrient density. During this time of year, avocados produce a higher oil content that results in a buttery texture and taste. While most commonly touted for their significant macronutrient profile of healthy monounsaturated fats, avocados secretly have more potassium per serving than bananas. They key is to consume at an avocado’s ripest moment (a soft but malleable center). Nutrients within an unripened avocado are still intact but their healthy fats are difficult to digest.
There is a reason why fruits and vegetables look and taste better at their natural ripest – they are more nutritious and easier to digest. Pack your shopping cart with as many seasonal foods as possible to optimize your nutritional palate this Spring, or opt for frozen produce, as companies usually harvest at ripeness and freeze immediately to lock in freshness.
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