Let's Eat

Seasons's eatings

Should food shortages materialise, don't panic! UK-grown produce can keep you (corona) fighting fit


"A group of root vegetables such as parsnips, swede, beetroot,onion,potatoes and carrots, in a metal bowl on a slate background.Click on the link below to see more of my fruit and vegetable images"

During the past year, food supply chains have looked shaky or even broken. In March and April, supermarket shelves were cleared of many staples. In December, with the closure of several national borders and threat of a no-deal Brexit, the possibility of unstacked shelves loomed again.

And even though we have a trade deal with the EU, Covid-19 and the new Brexit rules are affecting all stages of the food supply chain, whether it’s picking fruit or testing lorry drivers, so things remain uncertain. Add these worries to the annual angst about shedding festive weight gain (plus, this year, the lockdown love handles). Will we be able to access the full range of fruits and vegetables we’ve become used to?

Eating local is clearly more important than ever. And it’s good for the planet too. But can we get enough variety from a British-grown diet?

“Historically, that’s all we would have eaten. We were all thriving in terms of gut health, and we didn’t have so many obesity issues or problems associated with poor food choices” says nutritionist Laura Southern, who believes a dearth of fresh berries or green beans in January may be no bad thing. “There’s a strong and valid movement growing for eating seasonally and locally.”

She believes it makes sense from an environmental perspective to eat seasonally all year. “We’ve eaten UK grown foods for years with no detriment. It’s the imported produce that may be less beneficial. Think of the journey winter asparagus has taken. We grow sweet and delicious asparagus, but only from May to June. The rest of the year and it’s likely to have flown from China, Mexico or Peru.”

Judi Rose, author of To Life! Healthy Jewish Food, agrees. “It’s a very 21st century phenomenon to ship food across the world. Our ancestors would eat food at the time it ripened and was best for us. Eating locally has benefits for our health and for the planet.”

Southern agrees that local and seasonal is healthier. “Nutrient-wise the quicker from ‘picking to plate’ the produce is, the more nutrients it retains. Studies from the University of California show that vegetables can lose between 15 and 55 per cent of their vitamin C within a week, and some spinach can lose as much as 90 per cent vitamin C in just 24 hours. The journey time from picking the produce, storing it, flying it and then it sitting on the supermarket shelves means that lots of the vegetables’ nutrients might well be lost.”

For produce harvested at other times of year, frozen foods are a good option. “They’re often higher in nutrients than their air-freighted fresh counterparts. Most fresh veg are picked unripe and allowed to ripen during transit, which often means some nutrients don’t fully develop. Frozen veg are usually picked at peak ripeness so there are more nutrients there to begin with.”

But she warns against some cooking methods. “Boiling them means many of the water-soluble vitamins such as Bs and C will degrade, plus we often cook frozen veg for longer than fresh.”

Dr Michelle Braude (author of The Food Effect Diet and The Food Effect Diet Vegan) also recommends frozen fruit and vegetables for a vitamin hit, and says other cooking methods can maximise their nutritional value. “I steam or roast frozen broccoli or cauliflower with a little olive oil. Cauliflower is good roasted in salads and makes great mash.”

Both Southern and Braude advise keeping a stock of berries in your freezer.

“Their dark, rich colours contain so many phyto-chemicals. I chuck still-frozen berries into hot porridge. They melt, go lovely and jammy and give some sweetness,” says Southern, who also uses them in crumbles and biscuits to add fibre and extra nutrients.

Braude urges us not to forget UK-grown apples and pears around at this time of year, too. “They have tons of health benefits — the fibre in apples has been proven to reduce cholesterol.”

Orchard fruits give plenty of nutritional rewards, says Southern. “There are so many types of apples with different colours and levels of healthy phytochemicals. You should mix up how you serve them — stewed apples are good for your gut health, while eating them raw with skin on gives you healthy fibre.”

They agree that British seasonal vegetables have a wealth of nutritional benefits.

“Root vegetables are so healthy. Sweet potatoes are packed with beta-carotene, which is a strong antioxidant that can protect against cancer and heart disease. Beetroot is also high in antioxidants and proven to be the most effective vegetable (or fruit) for reducing blood pressure. It contains vaso-dilators,” says Braude.

Rose’s view is that eating seasonally is as nature intended: “Seasonal produce reflects how our biorhythms work — winter veg have plenty of carbohydrates to fuel us; spring greens are good for detoxification and soft fruits and berries rehydrate us in summer.”

They agree that January’s produce includes plenty of veg that support our liver and gut — our main detox systems. The brassica family (including kale, kohlrabi and cabbage) are in season, and delicious roasted, or shredded into winter salads. Cruciferous vegetables are good defences against cancer, adds Rose, who also recommends fermented vegetables.

“Stock up on Ashkenazi wonder food, sauerkraut. Pickled veg support our microbiome, the good gut microbes that keep us healthy,” confirms Southern. Our ancestors, who knew a bit about surviving long winters were keen picklers.

“Eating seasonally means having less choice,” says Southern, “something that we are not used to, and might not feel comfortable with, but ultimately it’s better for health of both the planet and you”.


Dr Michelle Braude 
Instagram @thefoodeffectdr

Laura Southern


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