Eating Seasonally: Q&A with Miles Price

With the transition of summer into fall you might be hearing about “eating seasonally”. We talk to Miles Price, Functional Medicine Specialist, about what seasonal eating means, is there any benefit behind it, and is it even possible in Hong Kong?

Q: What exactly does ‘eating seasonally’ or the ‘seasonal diet’ mean?

Eating seasonally and locally is eating vegetables and fruits which are grown in a particular community. Typically the produce is harvested and eaten at their freshest and eaten within their growing season with minimal storage. An example of this would be potatoes harvested and eaten in October (UK), or strawberries picked from April to July (UK). In days pre-1990’s most of the fruits and vegetables were consumed this way. Then came mass cool storage and refrigeration which allows produce to be kept ripe for much longer periods. When you factor in the growth in international freight shipping in the 1990’s, we can see how vegetables and fruits produced all around the world can be consumed year-round at minimal extra cost.

Q: What are the proposed health benefits to this?

When you eat vegetables or fruits seasonally, it is purported that consuming them at their freshest (meaning soon after harvest), the produce has the highest amounts of nutrients available. When we eat out of season, the produce is normally stored in cold warehouses where there potentially is a slow deterioration in nutrient density. By the time such produce is consumed many months later, various nutrients can be missing. This can be confusing for people who say they eat the healthiest diet of fruits and vegetables but actually the produce they eat have low levels of nutrients.

Q: Is there any research or science to back up this way of eating?

This research study1 indicated surprisingly, by comparing various fruits and vegetables in their frozen or cold storage forms to the fresh produce, there was minimal differences in nutritional status. Except for a few specific nutrients, namely beta carotene which dropped significantly most held up in storage conditions. Other preservation methods like fermentation of foods increases the nutritional content2. This was noted across a variety of fermented options which included vegetables, fruits dairy and meat products. This points towards to more traditional and ancient methods to preserving the nutritional status of foods which have predated refrigeration over many generations.

Q: Are there any other benefits to eating seasonally?

Reducing energy expenditure on storing produce by either eating locally or by fermenting the foods naturally will reduce the environmental impact globally and lessen the need for refrigerants which are also toxic to the environment. Eating locally reduces3 the environmental burden by lowering the international freight shipping. Minimizing the time and distance between field to plate should be the goal for all consumers, however education and awareness of this need is somewhat lacking. Local economies are better supported when consumer support local farmers and producers4 however consumers are so used to convenience to obtain all of their produce needs in one place like a supermarket so barriers remain unfortunately.

Q: Is it possible to eat seasonally in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong sits in a sub-tropical environment, which means little seasonality in the seasons occurring during the year. However, a growing awareness by local communities of protecting the environment and supporting local growers has meant that local markets are springing up across the region. Tai Po farmers market features 20-odd stalls selling the seasons harvests. Island East markets in Quarry bay showcases vegetables from local growers. Then there’s the local organic market which is at Pier 7 of the star ferry terminal in Central which sells a variety of local vegetables at a more economical price compared to the supermarkets. Hong Kong has its own unique challenges which are reflected in the mountainous terrains of much of the regions which make local production limited, together with the convenience time-limited mindsets of consumers which make supporting these producers harder.

Q: What is in season now in Hong Kong?

Some of the fruits and vegetables which can be obtained locally over the coming months (Oct-Feb) include bok choi, choy sum, lemons tomatoes, white radish, beetroots, taro and carrots. Supporting the local farmers as much as possible will help to establish a small but increasing important sector of Hong Kong’s economy and food-safety.

References:

  1. Bouzari A, Holstege D, Barrett DM. Vitamin retention in eight fruits and vegetables: a comparison of refrigerated and frozen storage. J Agric Food Chem. 2015 Jan 28;63(3):957-62.
  2. Melini F, Melini V, Luziatelli F, Ficca AG, Ruzzi M. Health-Promoting Components in Fermented Foods: An Up-to-Date Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1189. Published 2019 May 27.
  3. Macdiarmid JI. Seasonality and dietary requirements: will eating seasonal food contribute to health and environmental sustainability? Proc Nutr Soc. 2014 Aug;73(3):368-75.
Miles Price

Written by Miles Price, Functional Medicine Practitioner & Clinical Nutritionist

Miles did his initial training at Hawthorn University with an M.Sc. Holistic Nutrition. He followed this up with a professional accreditation to practice with BANT (UK) the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine in 2017 and subsequently obtained a Functional Medicine Diploma with Functional Medicine University in 2017. This was shortly followed by enrolling with the Institute of Functional Medicine on their practitioner program.

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