Good Reasons to Eat What's In Season
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Why does a juicy tomato taste so great on a summer's day? And why does a hot lemon drink hit the spot when you've got a cold? The vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients naturally present in fruits and vegetables help our bodies to cope with environmental and seasonal stresses.
In the height of summer, for example, with the sun overhead and the UV rays at their harshest a young tomato can survive, gently ripening on the vine. The tomato is naturally high in lycopene, the red pigment that is a powerful antioxidant that protects it from the harsh sun by absorbing the harmful UV rays.
As it so happens, the same antioxidants that protect fruit and vegetables from the sun are good for protecting our skin too. In particular, some studies have shown a lesser degree of skin damage from the sun's rays in people who supplement their diet with beta-carotene (an antioxidant from the yellow-orange pigment of some fruits and vegetables) compared to those who did not consume extra beta-carotene.
During winter when we're exposed to colder weather, colds and flu, citrus and other winter fruits with their high vitamin C and antioxidant content may offer some protection. While vitamin C can't prevent you from catching a virus, it may help you to get better faster. A diet containing plenty of vitamin C boosts your immune system, helping it to deal with a cold or flu.
Recently in the US, a college student was diagnosed with scurvy (severe vitamin C deficiency) after living on a diet completely lacking in fruits and vegetables. Scurvy is a relatively uncommon condition and is easily prevented by adequate intake of fruit and vegetables. In this case, the patient recovered rapidly within a few days by taking a multivitamin and vitamin C supplements.
In Australia we are blessed with year-round availability of most fruits and vegetables. This makes it easy for us to keep our antioxidant levels topped up, no matter what the season.
One study of a group of men and women who immigrated from Italy to Australia had some interesting results. The men continued to follow their traditional Mediterranean diet, although they did have an increase in fat intake, including saturated fat. Despite this, their incidence of heart disease was slightly lower than that of the men and women in their home country. The authors of the study speculated that the availability of salad vegetables and their antioxidant content all year round may have had something to do with the reduced rates of heart disease.
If you are aiming to get the widest range of antioxidants in your diet, try to choose a variety of colours when it comes to fruit and vegetables. Yellow, red, green and blue pigments all contain different levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Even fruits with white flesh, such as apples, still contain antioxidants and valuable fibre. The following table outlines the colour and nutrient content of some of the most popular fruits.
For a breakdown on the types of antioxidants and their role in good health, see the CalorieKing.com.au article on antioxidants.
Last updated: February 24th, 2003
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