How To Get Started Eating Healthy: Seasonal Shopping

by | Apr 13, 2009
Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes

Every Saturday morning I wake up as early as I can (usually not very early) and head to the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market to buy my vegetables for the week. Seasonal vegetables are the foundation of a healthy diet, and buying them each week is the single most important step you can take to upgrade your healthstyle.

(This post is part three of the series How To Get Started Eating Healthy. Part one is Stock Your Pantry and part two is Essential Groceries. Subscribe to Summer Tomato to get more free healthy eating tips)

Why Vegetables?

Decades of research on diet, nutrition and health have universally confirmed that a vegetable-based diet can reduce your risk of (and even reverse) almost every disease. Debates still rage regarding the mechanism by which vegetables improve health (Is it because they replace bad foods? Contain antioxidants? Are low in calories? Low in fat? Low in protein? Have low glycemic index?), but for you and me the reason doesn’t really matter. The important point is that vegetables are proven to make you healthy. Those other questions are only important to people who want to bottle that benefit and sell it to you at a premium.

Interestingly, one of the most consistent findings in nutrition science is that any attempt to isolate a specific element of food and create a useful dietary supplement fails to mimic the benefits of the whole food. The lesson from all of this is that you are much better off spending your money on vegetables and other whole foods than on nutritional supplements.

Why Seasonal?

If you have ever wondered how much vitamin C is in a tomato, please stop. The idea that one tomato is the same as the next is ludicrous, yet this is the kind of logic we have accepted from grocery stores and the food industry in general.

Anyone with taste buds can immediately tell the difference between a sweet, ripe heirloom tomato at the height of summer and a mealy red beefsteak from your grocery store in December. These foods taste wildly different because of how they were grown, so doesn’t it stand to reason that they may have different nutrient levels as well?

In fact, there is a tremendous difference in nutritional quality of foods grown in the correct season and in good soil. Seasonal organic produce is substantially better for you than the conventional produce at Safeway, and this difference is reflected in how your food tastes.

For these reasons, shopping in season can do wonders for how you think about vegetables. A salad may sound boring to you, but how about miner’s lettuce tossed with arugula, Tokyo turnips, Mediterranean cucumbers, ruby grapefruit and sliced almonds? If you are more excited to eat vegetables because they look, sound, smell and taste delicious, then you will lose weight and become healthier by default. Your daily greens will be a joy, not a chore.

Seasonal produce is also more affordable than out of season produce that was grown in a greenhouse or shipped halfway around the world.

How To Shop Seasonally

Farmers Markets

As I mentioned above, my preferred place to shop for vegetables is my local farmers market on Saturday. Farmers markets are wonderful because you have access to the freshest local and seasonal vegetables available, usually just picked the day before. This means that not only are you guaranteed vegetables at the peak of their season, you can even go from stand to stand and find the batch you like best. You can also discover interesting and unique offerings (like the chocolate persimmon), and build relationships with local farmers. If you are lucky enough to have a weekly farmers market in your area, it is certainly worth it to commit yourself to go every week.

Read this blog on Saturdays to keep up with local finds in the Bay Area and California in general.

CSAs

Unfortunately, farmers markets are not practical for everyone. Some people have time constraints that prevent them from attending a weekly market. Luckily there are some alternatives available. One option is the CSA, or Community-Supported Agriculture. When you subscribe to a CSA you have pledged support for a particular farm (or sometimes a group of farms), and in exchange receive a box of seasonal produce each week or on an agreed schedule. The biggest convenience of joining a CSA is that the times arranged for delivery or pick up are much more flexible than the weekly market. There are CSAs for vegetables, as well as meat and dairy.

From what I understand, individual CSAs can vary substantially in how they are run and what they provide. If you are interested in finding a CSA in your area, I recommend spending some time researching your options and deciding what works best for you.

I have personally never belonged to a CSA and would love to hear about your experiences if you have.

Local Produce Markets

Even without a farmers market or CSA it possible to shop in season. Most cities and suburban areas have local produce markets and/or health food stores that focus on fresh vegetables. While not everything in these markets will be seasonal and local, they usually provide a nice alternative to large chain grocery stores to at least supplement your produce shopping. For more information you can read my article about how to find local produce markets in your area.

Grocery Stores

Even if none of these options are available in your neighborhood, it is still likely that the most affordable and best tasting food at your regular grocery store is whatever happens to be in season. Thus it is still worth it to keep up on local produce trends in your area.

Conclusions

Eating your vegetables is the most important thing you can do for your health, and neither nutritional supplements nor regular workouts can substitute for a healthy diet. Whether you have access to farmers markets or not, you are better off eating any vegetables than no vegetables at all. The same is true if you are considering conventional vs. organic produce.

If farmers markets are not available to you year-round there are many ways to get seasonal vegetables and fruits. But the first step is committing to your health and your future by making sure seasonal, fresh vegetables are a part of your personal healthstyle.

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28 Responses to “How To Get Started Eating Healthy: Seasonal Shopping”

  1. Dee Wilcox says:

    Darla,

    I found your blog through the comments section on the ProBlogger challenge. Love it! I’m so happy to have found it. I’m the main chef in my household, and although I love food and am all for eating locally/organic/etc., I’ve been needing some encouragement and direction. Thanks so much for all of the incredible information you have posted here!

  2. Travis says:

    I am in the process of moving from Kingston (small city) to Ottawa (city of ~1 million) and am VERY excited because they have several farmer’s markets that are open year round! Although being in Ontario our local food selection in winter will still be pretty limited I’m sure. At the very least I’m hoping to have better access to local meat and dairy, as well as the local foods that keep well through the winter (squash, potatoes, apples, etc).

    We also just joined a CSA for the summer/fall which I am very excited about, and can’t wait to start receiving our fresh local produce in June (yes, it is that late in the year when we start to see substantial amounts of local produce up here…). We have several friends who have been members of CSAs in the past and they have all spoken very highly of the experience. I’m not sure what I’ll do the weeks that we receive 10 cucumbers and little else (the experience of one of my friends) but it will help us get used to seasonal cooking at the very least.

  3. Healthyliving says:

    This is a great post Darya, I can really see things coming together and your philosophy clearly. I’ve always wondered about CSAs…..

  4. Cheryl says:

    Hi Darya -
    I never knew about CSAs before but did a little digging and found out we have several in the Raleigh area. Thanks for the tip. I’m excited to learn more and get involved.

    Oh, and by the way. You are in the top 3 blogs I follow — check out your listing at http://www.healthylessons.com.

    • Darya Pino says:

      *blush* I’m so flattered!! Glad I could inspire. Definitely keep us posted on how you find the CSAs. Some people have been warning that they can get repetitive, so you may want to read some reviews before making your choice.

  5. Hannah says:

    Having recently started a food blog of my own, I thought I would have a stickybeak at others coming up through the 31DBBB.

    I love the look and feel of your site, as well as the accessibility and relevance of the information. Thank you for setting the bar so high! I can’t wait to read more.

    H :)

  6. Found your blog through the Problogger forums. Very nice site.

    Locally, we have both CSA’s and Farmer’s Markets. I tend to prefer the markets because they run twice a week. We recently had a second market open up as well. They’re booming.

  7. Hi Darya,

    Great post. I also just found you through Darren’s site. I am an acupuncturist in NYC. Local organic food is a love of mine. Looking forward to reading more.

    Joe

    • Darya Pino says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Joe! I’ve never had acupuncture, but think it is a really interesting. We learned about it a bit in some of my neuroscience classes, but that doesn’t really substitute for personal experience.

  8. Mike says:

    Another great post! You know I always read your site Darya, and I love all the angles you take on eating healthy; it really is a lifestyle change, and its embarrassing that we need help knowing how to live. You’re doing a great job though!

  9. Katie says:

    I looked into a CSA once pretty in depth, and just didn’t like the combination of produce that they were offering. I wish there was a CSA that was customizable.

  10. NB says:

    +1 for veggies reducing disease risk

  11. Sherry says:

    We join a CSA that runs June through November. I don’t think any that I looked into, are more convenient than a farmer’s market. I would even hazard a guess that most are far less convenient as many require a turn in working the farm, or in pick-ups. As a previous user mentioned you pretty much are given a variety of the produce they grow, there is no choice in the matter, but at least most inform you up front about what you will be getting. I enjoy this aspect though because it kind of forces me to eat veggies I wouldn’t have picked up on my own, and try them out in new recipes.

    The real benefit is in cost, and I think in part, peace of mind. Farmer’s markets here are pricey, and with the CSA we get a huge box of organic veggies for $15 a week. One that gives us (two vegetarians) a full week of meals, sometimes more. We’ve met and talked to the people who run the farm, they gave us tours, you can even chip in and help if you want. So you get the sense you really know where your food is coming from.

    The only thing better than a CSA is growing them on your own if you have the space and time. You can personalize what you want, it’s even cheaper then either option, and there is nothing better than picking a cherry tomato off the vine and popping it right into your mouth. Nothing compares to it!

    • Darya Pino says:

      What an amazing story, thanks! Here in San Francisco I think CSA membership is much more expensive. More on the order of $30-40 per box, which is almost exactly what I spend at the market. Sounds like you have a pretty sweet deal :)

  12. Hillary says:

    I wish there were a farmer’s market closer to me! I like to go to Green City Market in Chicago when I can. Those tomatoes look heavenly!

  13. summertomato fanboy says:

    This is a great series. And thanks for the reminder about you ‘how to find organic local markets’ post, I’ve been meaning to work on that. I wonder if CSAs ship to Texas……

  14. Kristine says:

    Hi Tomato-Lady. Just wondering about the best time of year to buy okra and where it’s grown locally and organically (in my case, in San Francisco).

    P.S. I love love love the site and all the wonderful photos.

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