Seasonal eating and gut health – why you should eat seasonal

  • Food
Seasonal eating

Buying seasonal food is usually low in our list of priorities when it comes to purchasing food: only 2% of us consider seasonality when deciding what to buy, regarding price as more important[1]. However, there are lots of benefits to eating seasonally, both as part of a healthy gut diet, and for the environment.

What is seasonal eating?

In simple terms, eating seasonally is when you eat foods that are ready to harvest at the same time of year that you eat them. However, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has proposed two definitions of seasonal food, depending on where the food is produced and consumed[2]:

  1. Global seasonality 
    This is food grown outdoors or produced during the natural growing period for the country/ region where it is produced. The food isn’t necessarily consumed in the same place that it was grown. An example would be apples grow during their natural season outdoors in New Zealand to be eaten in Europe during spring and summer. 
  2. Local seasonality
    This food is produced and consumed in the same climatic zone, without using lots of energy to modify the climate (e.g heated glasshouses) or to store the food for later consumption (e.g refrigeration). 

Although many of us link seasonal eating to local produce, it’s worth considering whether the produce you eat is seasonal for your region, or somewhere else in the world. 

Thanks to globalisation, supermarkets can source produce from all over the world, making seasonal produce available to consumers throughout the year. In 2019, only 55% of food consumed was produced in the UK, and 26% was imported from the EU[3], which shows how reliant our diets are on foods grown abroad. While this offers greater choice, imported produce can mean higher greenhouse gas emissions, as well as increasing pressure on land and water resources in the country of production[4]

How eating seasonally is environmentally friendly

Eating local seasonal produce is an important part of sustainable living. There are two main reasons for this:

1. It can reduce your carbon footprint

‘Food miles’ is the distance that food travels from the producer to the consumer. Food miles in both the UK and the USA account for about 10–11% of the total greenhouse gas emissions within the food system[5]. Eating seasonal produce grown in the UK will therefore reduce your carbon footprint. 

However, the ‘UK’ bit is important – it’s only more environmentally friendly if the food is seasonal in your region! Food produced out of season in the UK in heated glasshouses has higher greenhouse gas emissions than the same product grown naturally in season abroad and transported to the UK[6]. This is because lots of energy (meaning greenhouse gas emissions) for heating and lighting is required to grow products like tomatoes out of season.

2. It decreases resource pressure

When comparing raspberries produced in the UK and Spain, greenhouse gas emissions were not very different. However, the water stress placed on Spain was significantly higher than in the UK[7]. This is because of reasons such as drought reducing Spain’s fresh water supplies which they use for irrigation, as well as domestic consumption. 

Furthermore, British organic certification standards are much more rigorous than elsewhere, and require producers to fulfil a range of criteria that minimise soil erosion and pollution in order to qualify for the Soil Association symbol[8]. This means you can buy food knowing producers have taken measures to preserve the environment.

But what about my gut health? 

You can still have a healthy gut diet with a seasonal diet.

In fact, eating seasonally enables you to buy produce when it’s most flavoursome and satisfying! Generally speaking, the fresher the produce, the more nutrient dense it is, and this promotes healthy gut microbiome (why not read our ‘Think you’re human? Your microbiome begs to disagree’ blog).

If you purchase local seasonal produce, the food hasn’t travelled very far between where it was harvested and your plate. In comparison, food imported from abroad will decline in freshness as it travels, even with refrigeration (which requires lots of energy). Many fruits and vegetables in supermarkets are engineered for a longer shelf life, sacrificing both taste and nutrition for preservation. 

It’s possible to eat only seasonal fruit and veg available in the UK and meet nutrient requirements[9], but many of us would hesitate to adopt this lifestyle because it limits our choice. However, this isn’t a bad thing. Eating seasonally should encourage you to incorporate a wider variety of foods into your diet, and this promotes a diverse and healthy gut microbiome.

How does RYH combine seasonal eating with a healthy gut diet?

Our 4-week recipe programme is seasonal, which means that your plan will reflect ingredients which are being harvested in the UK at that time of year. 

Specifically developed recipes, as well as variations of standard ones, enable ingredients which are exotic or out of season to be swapped for UK seasonal produce. Olive oil and lemons are examples of ingredients which are exempt from this formula, as these are kitchen essentials.

Unless you have a good knowledge about British seasonality, buying local seasonal food can sound difficult, but with the shopping lists we provide alongside the recipes, the work is already done! 

Eating seasonal, locally sourced food is one aspect of sustainable eating. This multifaceted concept includes factors like reducing food waste, eating less meat and eating more organic produce. We encourage you to source produce from a local farmers market, so that your food is fresh, package free to reduce plastic waste, and directly supports the local economy. 

Seasonal eating doesn’t have to compromise your gut health. With our programme, it’s possible to be environmentally friendly and heal your gut.

References

  1. Kemp K, Insch A, Holdsworth DK et al. Food miles: do UK consumers actually care? Food Policy 35, 504–513. 2010. 
  2. Defra. Understanding the environmental impacts of consuming foods that are produced locally in season. 2012. Available at: http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Module=More&Location=None&ProjectID=16390  
  3. Gov.uk. Food Statistics in your pocket: Global and UK supply. 2020. Available at:  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/food-statistics-pocketbook/food-statistics-in-your-pocket-global-and-uk-supply
  4. Macdiarmid, J. Seasonality and dietary requirements: Will eating seasonal food contribute to health and environmental sustainability? Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 73(3), 368-375. 2014. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/08545F71A12EF0FE233E8D1DEFEF227A/S0029665113003753a.pdf/seasonality_and_dietary_requirements_will_eating_seasonal_food_contribute_to_health_and_environmental_sustainability.pdf
  5. Smith A, Watkiss P, Tweddle G et al. (2005) The Validity of Food Miles as an Indicator of Sustainable Development: Final report. DEFRA report ED50254. http://archive.defra.gov.uk/evidence/economics/foodfarm/reports/documents/foodmile.pdf; Weber CL & Matthews HS (2008) Food miles and the relative climate impact o food choices in the United States. Environ Sci Technol 42, 3508–3513.
  6. Hospido A, Canals LM & McLaren S (2012) The role of seasonality in lettuce consumption: a case study of environmental and social aspects. Int J Life Cycle Assess 14, 381–391; . Webb J, Williams AG, Hope E et al. (2013) Do foods imported into the UK have a greater environmental impact than the same foods produced within the UK? Int J Life Cycle Assess 18, 1325–1343.
  7. DEFRA (2012) Understanding the environmental impacts of consuming foods that are produced locally in season. Project FO0412. Available at: http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspxModule=More&Location=None&ProjectID=16390
  8. Soil Association. Soil Association standards: Farming and growing. 2020. Available at: https://www.soilassociation.org/media/15931/farming-and-growing-standards.pdf
  9. Kyle, J, Fyfe, C, Horgan, GW et al. (2011) Livewell Christmas. WWF-UK.