Seasonal and Sensible - Your Guide To Eating Seasonally

May 25, 2023

Season. A period of the year based on defined characteristics such as the intensity of sunlight, humidity, rain, and other changes in ecology, and weather of the environment. The modern Gregorian calendar that we use today divides the year into 4 broad seasons – spring, summer, autumn, and winter. The number of seasons you may witness varies from four to six depending on where you live on Earth.  In addition to the four seasons of the Gregorian calendar, there is also the monsoon season and the dry season. Different cultures have very interesting ways of dividing the year into seasons – the Indian calendar divides a year into 6 seasons, the Chinese calendar has 24 seasonal points, and the Japanese calendar has 72 micro seasons. Regardless of how many seasons a year was divided into, our ancestors used this division of seasons to eat better and eat in response to the change in climatic conditions. In this article, let us delve deeper into why we need to eat seasonally, and how we can do that today.

Seasons and Gut Microbiome

As they say, change is the only constant. The world around us changes every day, and more specifically with every season. We see various ecological changes around us with every shift in seasons including but not limited to – the flowering and fruiting of flora, falling of leaves, hibernation of animals, etc. Human beings as part of this changing ecosystem, also experience changes in the body as the external environment around them changes. 

Our bodies appear to have evolved to naturally adapt to seasonal changes. Research has shown that people who live in regions with colder climatic conditions have different gut microbiome compositions than those who live in warmer climatic conditions. Other studies show that exposure to cold on a seasonal basis changes the makeup of your gut microbiome in replicable, specific ways. While there is more research to be done in this space, it looks like our bodies are meant to slow down and focus on fattening up in response to cold so that we can survive the winter. Exposure to cold can lead to shifts in your metabolism, your body tends to absorb calories faster, and your gut composition trends towards microbes that digest heavier, starchier foods better. [1], [2]

Seasons and Circadian Rhythm

The biological processes in our body relate to one another, and they have a phase relationship with one another. Changes in the external environment also aggravate specific stressors in the body. If this stress is not dealt with by adapting to the external environment, via food and lifestyle changes specific to that season, then homeostasis is disrupted and this makes way for lifestyle diseases. 

Similarly, the natural circadian rhythm also changes with the seasons. Several studies on sleep and circadian rhythms have indicated significant effects of ecological factors on the overall circadian rhythm. To explain it simply, the shift in the intensity of sunlight, and the earth’s axial rotation affecting the length of the day causes shifts in the timing of sleep, the mean body temperature, the phases of circadian temperature and melatonin rhythms, and the phase relation between sleep and the rectal temperature rhythm. [3],[4],[5]

Thus, in order to remain one with nature, and move in the same direction as nature, it is important to look into eating seasonally. In addition to optimizing the health of your body, eating seasonally also has some macro effects on the environment in itself – promoting sustainability, impacting the environment, health, society, and economy, but that’s for another day. 

Seasonal Eating & Nutrition

Eating seasonally, literally means that you eat produce specific to that season – those that are harvested and ripe for consumption in that season. You also eat foods that are easier to digest in that season, as your body’s ability to digest different foods vary across seasons. The health benefits apart, eating seasonally also means eating foods that taste better. Produce grown and consumed in their appropriate seasons taste a whole lot better, and they are also nutrient dense. Produce that is grown out of their appropriate seasons cannot follow their natural growing and ripening rhythms. They also have higher levels of harmful substances like lectin, which damages the walls of your intestines and makes it easier for your gut microbiome to become unbalanced. For certain fruits and vegetables to be available throughout the year, ripening agents and post-harvest treatments are used. These processes enable the production of vegetables and fruits in larger quantities by means of slowing down the maturation and ripening process. While this process ensures year-round availability, it also gives way to produce of poor nutrition. Many fruits and vegetables lose phenolics, vitamin C, and anthocyanins — which are antioxidants that fight free radical damage and oxidative stress in the body — after 15 days of cold storage. [6]

Eating Seasonally Helps The Environment

Eating seasonally is also a great way to lower the carbon footprint. Sourcing seasonal food means produce spending less time on the truck and the lack of need to hold them in cold storage, leading to lower Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. 


How to eat seasonally?

Shop at the local farmers’ market

A very good way to start eating seasonally is to go to your local farmers’ market and start observing the different produce that is being sold. Go as often as you can. Talk to the farmers and produce sellers about what is in season. You will notice that local, seasonal produce is usually available in large volumes in season, and cheaper as well. Other places that you can check are the local co-op society gardens and local farms. 

Growing your own food

Another great way to incorporate seasonal eating is to grow your own seasonal produce as much as possible. This is also a great way to understand the cycles and patterns of the microcosm around you and adapt yourself better to the very microenvironment you live in. As you grow your own food, you also develop a closer relationship with your food, as your produce becomes the labour of your love.

Listening to your body

The third, and my personal favorite way of eating seasonally is by listening to your body. In addition to eating what is in season, eating what your body needs the most will work wonders. Look at parameters such as – hunger patterns – are you feeling intense hunger or mild hunger, how often are you feeling hungry, sleep quality, energy levels, bowel movements, and digestion patterns, and then opt for the right foods. For example, if it is a warmer season, and your hunger is mild, you feel less hungry for the most part of the day, and your sleep quality and bowel movements are fine, you can opt for nourishing and warming soups or light to digest meals with plenty of herbs like ginger, oregano, etc. with a good portion of lean protein. This enables you to have more holistic control over your body as the seasons shift. 



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