Eat Local to Enjoy Summer’s Freshest Foods

Today’s grocery shoppers have no shortage of options. You can buy produce that was once just available for a few weeks each year on any given day. Fresh blueberries in February or corn on the cob in November, Americans have the luxury of choice, no matter what the time of year may be.

Eating locally grown, seasonal foods, however, has a wealth of benefits. It’s not only better for the environment, but also your health. In fact, locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables are usually purchased just after harvest time. Because nutritional value can decline dramatically as time passes after harvest, eating locally grown produce ensures you are eating foods at their peak quality of freshness and nutrition.

This summer follow these tips to give your pantry a seasonal makeover and ensure your food picks offer the optimal nutritional value.

Find out what’s in season. Stay in the know on what’s in season and consider making a seasonal buying guide. This summer, be on the lookout for cucumber, eggplant, peppers and summer squash and fruits like apricots, blueberries, cherries, raspberries, strawberries and watermelon. When summer closes, consider altering your shopping list for in-season foods locally grown, instead of shipped in from thousands of miles away.

Hit up farmer’s markets. Did you know there are over 3,100 farmers markets in the U.S.? Most farmers’ markets have formed relationships with local farmers and feature locally grown products at their food stands. Enjoy the bounty of fresh, beautiful produce in season like melons, tomatoes, peaches, plums, sweet corn and asparagus. To find what markets are in your area, go here.  Be sure to ask vendors where their foods are grown.

Read labels. Look for signs at grocery stores that tell you where your meat, seafood and produce come from. Opt for foods grown closer to home. Shop at grocery stores that indicate the geographic origin of foods. More and more mainstream grocery stores are catching on to this trend.

Get digging. There are many foods that are easy to grow in your very own backyard and you often don’t need a full-fledged garden. Consider planting a simple herb garden. If you don’t have a lot of space, use a window box or flowerpot. Lots of food can grow and be ready to eat in just a month’s time, including lettuce, arugula and radishes, and herbs such as basil, dill, mint and cilantro.

Dine out, mindfully. Choose restaurants in your area that purchase foods from local and regional farms. Ask around at restaurants about their ingredients and find out where they come from. You can also ask folks at the farmer’s market what restaurants typically purchase food from them.

You are likely to find eating locally grown food can be a big transition but the benefits are plentiful. Consider making the change gradually and your choices will add up over time. And be sure to keep in mind the big picture – the closer the food is grown to home, the better the food is likely to be for your taste buds and health.

For more ideas on heart-healthy eating, check out The Cooper Clinic Solution to the Diet Revolution: Step Up to the Plate (2009). My guidebook of tips makes healthy eating fun and more manageable. Connect with me online at @GeorgiaKostas and Facebook/Georgia Kostas Nutrition and visit: http://www.georgiakostas.com.

This nutrition information does not address individual health conditions. Please consult with your physician or registered dietitian to meet specific health and dietary needs.

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