If you’ve ever bitten into a plump strawberry picked fresh off the vine, revealing it’s vibrant ruby-red inside, then you’ve tasted one divine and decadent benefit of eating with the seasons. But sadly, this experience is often the exception. These days, unless you’re growing food in your own garden or picking it up from a farmers market, it’s likely that your produce has traveled thousands of miles to reach your plate.

The implications of this circumstance are multi-fold. To begin, your food contributes to greenhouse gas emissions as it is shipped, driven, or even flown over states and continents – 1,500 miles on average. By default, this often means that your food is from a completely different climate and is already several days or even weeks old by the time you bite into it. Alternatively, when you choose to eat with the seasons you’re automatically opting for more local food, which boosts the local economy, cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions, and provides a host of benefits for your body. Here’s a closer look at the top three benefits of eating with seasons that will keep your body thriving:

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1. Optimize Nutrient Content

The beauty of eating plants is that they are abundant in nutrients that support your health. However, if your produce isn’t quick to reach your hands nutrients often diminish. How? Well, first off, produce in season already has higher nutrient content, as revealed by a study that demonstrated broccoli in season has two times the vitamin C content of broccoli out of season. Secondly, to add insult to injury, when your food travels from afar it undergoes a great deal of treatment, packaging, and travel. This only exacerbates the natural decomposition that begins once they’re plucked off the stem or vine. The consequent nutrient loss can be significant. For example, researchers at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii found that their local mangoes contained 117 percent more vitamin C compared to those imported and their local oranges contained flavonoid levels 150 percent greater than Navel oranges. Additionally, a study from Penn State University found that leafy greens like spinach lost 47 percent of their folate after eight days. Seasonal, local food also helps to mitigate this loss because it avoids the high-yield, quick-growth, and low-cost varieties that large agricultural growers select for that are inherently lower in nutrients.

2. Align Your Nutrient Needs With the Season 

An additional beauty of eating plants is that their availability parallels your body’s needs. There’s a reason you crave a juicy watermelon in the summer and pumpkin-everything in the fall! For example, eating the abundance of leafy greens and fruits that come into season in the spring helps to reduce inflammation which plays a major role in allergies. Then, in the heat of the summer, produce with high water and antioxidant content, like peaches and watermelon, are bountiful, providing hydration and protection from skin damage.  As the leaves begin to change and flu-season kicks in, the fall provides apples that high in quercetin which helps to fight the flu plus there are squashes and sweet potatoes that are high in vitamin C and A and help keep your immune system healthy. When winter rolls around, our bodies need warming root vegetables and high-fat content foods like nuts to keep alleviate the cold, plus high-carbohydrate foods to stimulate serotonin production (one of the “happy hormones”)  that naturally decreases during this time. Plus, eating with the seasons automatically introduces more diversity into your diet, which has been shown to be important in overall health.

3.  Adapt Mindful Eating Habits 

Eating to match our body’s natural rhythms with the rhythms of the seasons helps to foster mindful eating. When we eat with the seasons, we can pay better attention to the foods our bodies are craving rather than eating without intention. Additionally, seasonal foods can match our psychological needs, a fundamental concept of ancient medicines like Ayurvedic medicine. For example, springtime foods are detoxifying, summertime foods are light and cooling, fall foods are grounding, and wintertime foods are heavy and warming. Keeping these trends in mind can help to foster a mind-body connection, helping to foster overall wellness!

Lead Image Source: Natalia Klenova/Shutterstock