It should come as no surprise that eating more fruits and vegetables has a plethora of benefits for society and the environment. It is thus no wonder that eating locally is a pet topic for many environmentalists. Local produce supports independent, small farmers, boost the local economy and wastes less energy on transport. For these reasons alone, we could all strive to eat local produce more often. Yet eating locally also comes with a number of health benefits that might just convince you to prepare your next meal with local fruit and vegetables.
1. Local food is fresher
Local food doesn’t need to travel across oceans before it reaches your plate. This means the nutritional value of the food is preserved. Once produce is harvested, it starts losing certain nutrients almost immediately, particularly vitamin C, E, A and some B vitamins. Nutrient quality of produce can also be impaired by temperate changes and exposures to air and light during travel. So, the shorter the travel distance, the fewer nutrients will be lost along the way.
2. Local food is riper
Since local produce doesn’t need to travel far and thus has less time to spoil, the fruits and vegetables can ripen longer on their branches or in their soil. Ripe produce, of course, tastes better, but the nutrient content in these foods is higher as well. Several scientific studies have shown that overall vitamin content is higher in produce that is picked at prime ripeness, rather than fruits and vegetables that have had to continue their ripening after harvest.
3. Local food is seasonal
Local food tends to be grown according to the ecological cycle of a particular area. Eating according to the seasons has a host of health benefits. It has been shown that food grown according to its natural cycle has more nutrients than food grown outside of its season. Besides offering more nutrient-dense food, eating seasonally has the benefit of offering a variety of food rather eating the same types of produce year-round. Eating a large variety of food according to the seasons’ availability not only mimics the eating habits of our ancestors but also ensures you get an array of nutrients throughout the year rather than eating banana’s and broccoli year-round.
4. Local food is grown in richer soils
Small-scale, local farmers often use traditional and sustainable farming practices, such as using cover crops. This way, they improve the soil fertility and ensure crops are growing in mineral-rich soils. In modern, industrial agriculture, the quality of soils is steadily declining. This results in mineral-impoverished foods and correlated health problems, such as magnesium and vitamin b12 deficiency. Eating local food from sustainable farmers will thus ensure you get the most mineral-rich produce that is available in your area.
5. Local food is location-specific
The last reason to eat locally more often is found in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM teaches us that the local foods in a region will provide the nutrients and properties that a person in that climate needs. According to TCM, it is no wonder that the tropics are full of fresh fruits to cool our body down and warming root vegetables are found most abundantly in colder regions. Think about it. Cabbage, which is higher in vitamin C than oranges, is harvested in winter when people’s immune systems tend to be low. Watermelons, which are full of nutrients (lypocene) that can protect your skin against UV damage, are grown in warm places with plenty of sunshine. Eating local and seasonal foods thus not only offer you more nutrients but also give you the type of nutrients your body requires in a certain region.
How to eat locally
Rather than looking at the labels of every produce item in your supermarket to check where it was made, an easy way to find and buy local food is going to farmers markets in your area. If that is still too much trouble or if there are no farmers markets in your area, another great option is getting a fruit and vegetable box delivered to your doorstep each week. I get a vegetable box delivered to me by Riverford every week and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made regarding food. I get fresh, organic, seasonal and mostly local food sent to my house on a weekly basis, which ensures I get to prepare nutrient-dense meals every single night. Another perk is this particular box includes ‘forgotten’ produce that you cannot find in conventional supermarkets anymore, meaning I continuously get surprised by new flavours and foods.
Due to initiatives, such as fruit and vegetable boxes, farmer markets and even local health food shops, there is really no excuse to not eat local foods more often. I still buy exotic fruits from time to time and when I want to try a new recipe, I don’t hesitate to get the required foods from the supermarket. Yet I have made the switch to mostly local produce and am so happy about it. Not only is it better for the environment, but it also does my body and health a massive favour!