It is SO easy to get confused nowadays. The amount of conflicting information we are told is overwhelming. Many years ago when I first heard about eating seasonally, I did a slight eye roll thinking, “oh great…another diet strategy”. BUT…I also did some research. What I discovered was fascinating and had me quickly interested in incorporating it into my lifestyle.
You see…we live in a world where we have access to any kind of food we desire, whenever we want it. Because of this, we are constantly eating foods that are not only highly processed, but also completely out-of-season. How can this affect us? Let me tell you a little bit about what I learned as I dove into the research.
Did you know that people living a preindustrial lifestyle seem to be free of digestive issues (ones like colon cancer, colitis, and Crohn’s disease)?
Did you also know that these groups of people eat a diet that is closely connected to the seasons? When looking at one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribes on earth (the Tanzanian Hadza tribe), you see both of these to be true and introduces an interesting correlation: that our gut microbes change seasonally.
Researchers at Sanford University found that the microbes in members of the Hadza tribe change dramatically with the seasons and are in sync with their seasonal diet.
The study they published in the Journal of Science shows that certain microbes present in the gut one season may almost disappear the next. It was concluded that the Hadza tribe’s gut microbes and digestion are very much in tune with nature as they change in a seasonal pattern.
In addition, the Hadza’s microbiome is significantly more diverse than a Western-cultured microbiome. Throughout different seasons, the enzymes in their guts shift to focus on the foods in abundance (more enzymes targeting digestion of animal based foods during the dry season and more plant based during the wet season).
What was discovered and concluded by this study is that chronically eating out of season may disrupt the natural and cyclical processes of the gut and digestion. Studies that have followed have added that it’s not only digestive enzymes that change seasonally, but also neurotransmitters, nutrients and targeted receptors.
How can this affect us? Well…instead of eating a higher carb diet during late summer months when carbs and starches are more plentiful, those on a Standard American Diet (which is most of the US population) are eating a high-carb diet the entire year. When carbohydrate-digesting bacteria overpopulate the gut, it can drive excess glucose into the bloodstream. And we wonder why we have diabetes on the rise!
So eating seasonally can not only help regulate microbes in the gut (which leads to better gut health), but it also gives the body a variety of nutrients. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s a great way to get away from mega conglomerate corporations and support local farmers.
So you may be wondering “Where do I start if eating more seasonally is something I’m interested in?”
There are so many resources out there to help you as you get started. For starters, the website localharvest.org is great for searching for local farms, farmers markets, and events near you to get connected. Also check out seasonalfoodguide.org to check out seasonal foods specific to your region.
Above all, my belief is to always focus on the good/better/best/optimal scale. Don’t start out feeling like if you don’t do it perfectly that you have somehow failed and you have to go back to consistent bad habits. But rather allow yourself to enjoy the journey and strive to always do better than yesterday. After all…this should be a fun learning experience that puts you on the path to less stress and more optimal health!