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Fresh is best

BY KAYLAN THOMPSON kthompson@paducahsun.com

Plump, buttery corn on the cob at a family cookout, a sip of warm apple cider in chilly air, roasted sweet potatoes at a holiday gathering - food not only anchors memories throughout life, it helps define our seasons.

We crave different foods during certain times of year - warm, hearty soups on chilly days and juicy melons in the summer heat - but eating the fresh produce that grows in each season, or seasonal eating, may help keep your health in check, your diet diverse and your wallet full.

"In the wintertime, we naturally crave foods that are more warming and comforting like root vegetables, broth. In the summer we normally crave salads, lighter things, and even our spices are different," said Marcy Snodgrass, a yoga and health coach in Murray. "Our bodies are so in tune to seasonal fluctuations and when we're eating what's in season, we are getting more vitamins that we need at that point in time."

For example, cranberries, a sweet holiday treat, provide antioxidants, fiber and vitamin C through the winter months when colds and flus attack the immune system, according to WebMD. Brussels sprouts, another cold weather veggie, are also an excellent source of vitamin C and folic acid.

In summer months, juicy fruits and water-filled veggies like cucumber and lettuce provide minerals and extra hydration amidst the heat.

Nicole Brown, a certified hatha/raja and prenatal yoga teacher with the Living Arts Center in Paducah, added that watery veggies and fruits are critical in remaining hydrated through the year, especially in summer.

"One of the aspects in prenatal care is to encourage women to have healthy nutrition, to get their hydration and vitamins through their food. If we can get it from the food, it metabolizes better," she said. "Think about summer, with hydration being so important. How do we hydrate, what do we crave? Strawberries, berries, watermelon, oranges, cantaloupe, cucumbers, they're full of water. No wonder the earth makes melons in the summertime, it's magical."

She added that the body's metabolism naturally fluctuates with the seasons, rising higher in the summer and mellowing out in the winter.

"How does it know to do that, to cycle like that? It gets that information from what we put into it, our food, a product of our unique environment," she said. "When we're eating strawberries and blueberries in the winter, it's more difficult for our bodies to metabolize all that sugar."

For McCracken County farmer Hannah Hammonds of Hammonds Farms, the biggest difference between eating in and out of season is the freshness of the produce.

"For strawberries, they're picked when they're not quite ripe because they've got to travel, sit on the shelf and you've got to buy them," she said.

"So when you buy them, they're nice and red, but when they were picked, they were white. When you eat seasonal produce from your local farmers market, you're allowing the food to naturally grow and ripen where it is, so you'll get a lot more flavor and more of the benefits of the plant because you're allowing the vitamins and minerals to develop naturally.

To grow produce out of season, Hammonds said additional costs could include transportation costs from further locations and/or the cost of running and manning a heated greenhouse in out-of-season months.

Glance around the produce section of the grocery store, she added, and note the price and quality of strawberries in the summer, priced around $2 a pint, and in the winter, priced around $5 or more a pint.

"If you're buying something out of season, you're not only paying for the food, but it costs more because the grocery store had to pay to buy it, get it there and put it on the shelf," she said. "Whereas, if you buy local produce, you're getting what's in season at a better price because it can grow closer to home and it's easier to come by."

When customers buy local, they're buying fruits and veggies that were picked, if not that morning, that week, and were allowed to grow naturally in its own season.

Seasonal foods include peas, onions, carrots, broccoli and cabbage in spring and early fall; tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and berries in the heat of summer; and root vegetables, potatoes, gourds and squash in the winter.

Hammonds said locals can buy seasonal produce locally at the Paducah Farmer's Market each weekend through the summer until the end of October.

She encourages locals to get to know local vendors and farmers at the market so they can keep purchasing fresh produce through the year directly from the growers.

Eating seasonably pairs with and often encourages buying locally, resulting in better flavor, fuller nutrient content, and a stronger sense of community, Brown said.

"The first thing you're probably thinking when you hear about eating seasonally or locally is, 'Great, here's another thing you're telling me not to do,' but it's actually freeing in a way," Brown said. "The cool thing about eating seasonally and locally, you have to get hooked up with somebody who grows it, right? That definitely means you have to get to know people in your region and would bring about a sense of belonging and community, friendliness and a sense of health."

At the end of the day, eating per the seasons, even eating locally, will change the way you look at food, Snodgrass said. Stopping to think about what grows in the summer versus the winter and choosing produce shapes a more mindful attitude toward food.

"It does make us more mindful in that way," she said. "I really do think you'll see changes in your body. I love that saying, 'Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food,' because I really do believe that what we put into our bodies makes a huge difference in how we feel. You'll notice that, and the more you notice that the more mindful it makes you of what you're putting into your body."

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