Once upon a time, most people harvested their food directly from the land or sea rather than selecting it from stocked grocery store shelves that bear the same appearance in August as they do in March. Although technology now allows Coloradans to eat bananas and tomatoes year-round, various health practitioners and an ongoing medical study suggest that Mother Nature knows what she’s doing and that eating seasonally available, local food may actually be better for your health.
“Eating foods seasonally and locally is better for your health because you get a better variety and you are not eating the same things every day,” says Cathy Hayes-Daly, a local certified nutritionist. “Today, we eat a fraction of what our ancestors used to eat. Unlike them, we eat a lot of processed foods, and a focus on eating seasonally helps us avoid those.”
Although Colorado and other temperate climates do not offer the long growing season and abundance of seasonal “rainbow foods” that states like California and Florida do, it is possible to source a certain percentage of nourishment from locally produced foods all year. And experts like Hayes-Daly say that doing so is beneficial to one’s health because of the abundance of enzymes that fresh food boasts. They also contend that food should not be viewed as simply a source of fuel.
“I don’t think we can talk about food and nutrition without it impacting all the other facets of our lives,” says Meg Mauer, a certified rolfer and nutrition coach. “Most people see food as an energy source and do not consider how it really impacts all aspects of our lives and well-being.”
The benefits of eating locally sourced foods got the attention of researchers at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. Under the leadership of Alice Ammerman, who holds a doctorate degree in public health nutrition and is director for health promotion and disease prevention, researchers are studying the links between a growing obese American population and the loss of a connection to locally produced foods.
The ongoing study currently contends that “high-calorie, nutrient-deficient food has become a dietary staple of families who have lost the connection with local, seasonal foods.”
Keith Economidis, a practitioner of oriental medicine, says that according to his practice, there are actually five and not four seasons in our climate: spring, summer, late summer, autumn and winter, and diet should adjust to meet the conditions of each season.
During the summer months, Economidis suggests readily available foods, like peppers, which work with the yang to increase sweating. But late summer begins the transition from the yang, which is at its peak in high summer and associated with fire, sweating and extremes, to the yin, which reaches its peak in the heart of winter and is characterized by calming, cooling and withdrawn properties. It should be a time to adopt foods that hydrate and fatten our bodies for a hibernation-like state.
Economidis explains that with the cooling nights and abundance of carbohydrate-rich food, like fruit, our bodies should be preparing for winter and also, given the dry climate, we should be ingesting what he calls moistening foods, like pork, eggs, soy beans and pears.
“It’s clear, if you watch natural patterns,” says Economidis. “Just look around. Leaves will begin falling off. Everything is withdrawing. It’s us. It’s nature. It’s everything.”
In the spring, however, Economidis, Mauer and Hayes-Daly all suggest that people eat greens, greens and more greens. Cleanses and detoxing in the spring are not a fad, says Hayes-Daly. People have been doing it for centuries.
“Historically, after a long winter of a heavy meat and storage vegetable diet [like winter squash], our bodies are literally hungry for those spring greens,” says Hayes-Daly. To detox from a winter diet, she recommends eating seasonal greens like dandelions, which are high in antioxidants.
During the summer months, Hayes-Daly suggests taking advantage of the plentiful variety of fresh produce and says she encourages her clients to eat a rainbow every day.
To eat that way through the winter months in Colorado requires a bit of preparation or a monetary investment. Freezing and canning foods in late summer and autumn allows for enjoying nutrient-rich foods throughout the cold winter months. If space, time or skills present issues, there are many low-cost classes available throughout the county.
“We are blessed here by what is available all year long,” says nutrition coach Mauer. “The local food sources are amazing.”
Spaghetti Squash with Bison Ragu (from Primal Blueprint Quick and Easy Meals: Delicious, Primal-approved meals you can make in under 30 minutes by Mark Sisson and Jennifer Meier)
3-4 roasted red peppers
1/4-1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 lb. ground bison
1 spaghetti squash
Cut tomatoes in half or fourths and process in a food processor or blender with roasted peppers and basil until it reaches the texture you desire (slightly chunky or smooth). In saucepan over medium heat, warm olive oil, add onion, sauté 1-2 minutes, add garlic and bison. Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste and cook 4-5 minutes until bison is lightly browned but still slightly pink, then add the tomato and red pepper purée. Simmer rapidly for 10 minutes or until squash is done.
While the sauce simmers, cut spaghetti squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Microwave each half 6-8 minutes until soft. Scrape out noodle-like insides with a fork, drizzle with olive oil and serve with bison ragu on top.
492 calories, 32 grams fat (9 saturated), 24 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fiber, 31 grams protein