General Guidelines for Healthy Eating: Seasonal Eating

What makes a balanced meal? The standard theory shared by most nutritionists and dieticians is that it consists of a certain ratio of protein, carbs, and fats. The government’s website mypyramid.gov will give you more specific details based on your age and sex. Diet-book authors and diet gurus argue back and forth about whether you should have more carbs, no carbs, lots of protein, less protein, low fat, or gobs of fat. In truth, the amount of each differs for different people. And equally important is what kind of fat, carbs, etc., you eat. But there is much more to the story of balancing a meal than just these categories. There are many, many ways to balance a meal, and all that means is to put together some food that will make you feel good – or “balanced” – in terms of energy, awareness, strength, attitude, and health. You can take into consideration the season, the weather, your lifestyle, job, current state of health, the colors of the food, the tastes, the method of preparation, how hungry you are, even your mood. Is this starting to sound complicated? Well, don’t worry, because the choices you will make when taking these things into consideration are all very simple and intuitive and. Let’s take, for example, seasonal eating.

The theory behind seasonal eating is based on our experience of balance in nature. Plants grow and animals thrive in response to the conditions around them. Melons grow in the hot summer and are proportionately cool. The warming energy of root vegetables sustains them even into the winter. Aside from the fact that they will be fresher (having not necessarily traveled as far) and tastier (having been grown under the sun, not in a greenhouse), the in-season foods that you eat will impart their energy to you and help you thrive in the same conditions in which they grew and prospered. Generally if you eat something out of season it’s been flown halfway around the world – from California or South America – a process that uses up a lot of energy and resources. Now, if these were the best foods for you that would be one thing. But the fact that your body will appreciate the local, seasonal foods more than, say, the tropical foods, is another reason to cut down on consumption of food that has traveled through a change in climate to get to you, regardless of how appealingly exotic it may sound. Most people will agree that whether it’s happening or not, climate change is not such a good thing.

But this is not a hard and fast rule. For example, even though they come from far away, I love avocados. If you’re a vegetarian, they’re an excellent source of fat in your diet. There’s even a recipe for guacamole in this newsletter. But if I eat avocados more often than other fruits, I don’t feel so great. This just shows that there is still a lot of space for personal decisions within these general principles.

We are currently in the month of June (that is, if I get this newsletter finished in time. Originally it was a May newsletter). So what are some options if you live, say, in New York City, like me? I checked the farmers’ market website and here’s what they are harvesting now: asparagus, beets (and beet greens), broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, mesclun, peas, radishes, rhubarb, scallions, spinach, summer squash, swiss chard, turnip greens, and strawberries. There’s plenty of variety there; if you choose to eat more seasonally, it’s a great way to discover new fruits or vegetables that you wouldn’t have an excuse to cook otherwise.

For more information on this kind of topic there’s Elson Haas’ book Staying Healthy with the Seasons, and John Douillard’s Ayurvedic diet book The 3-Season Diet.