Spring into your best shape with seasonal eating
by Ian Craig
in Blogs

As I sit here pondering what I would like to write for you this week, I feel the warmth of the spring breeze drifting through my open window. Looking out at the garden, it is a beautiful Johannesburg day in late September – still dry from the winter droughts, but we’ve started to experience the first of the summer thunderstorms.

Our location in the world obviously differs a lot when it comes to seasonal weather patterns, but here on the high plains of South Africa, we transition from the overuse of thermal underwear to walking around in T-shirts and baggies (board shorts) in a matter of weeks. During these rapid changes in weather conditions, if we are fixed in our views with regard to what we should be eating for optimal health, we risk not running with the flow of nature. After all, I feel that the natural ways of the world, of nature, are infinitely more powerful than the polarised views of the latest diet book.

For example; in our book Wholesome Nutrition, I quoted Mark David from the incredible book Nourishing Traditions by one of our nutritional heroes Sally Fallon. In reference to a raw food diet, which has gained incredible interest in recent time, he says: “in certain Eastern and European esoteric traditions, the body is characterised as cyclically passing through three distinct phases: cleansing, building and sustaining… a raw food diet steers the body into a cleansing state, causing the breakdown of diseased tissues and the release of stored toxins… the diet may have profound effects… those who have this experience correctly perceive the healing effect of the diet, but often incorrectly conclude that the diet works all the time… try eating raw fruits and vegetables for 12 months in Montana and you will learn first hand why does not always work!”

I think this is a powerful statement, emphasising the fact that the body has different needs at different times of the year. With rising temperatures in South Africa, if we actually listen to our body's needs as opposed to our intellectual view, which after all is learned from somewhere other than inside our own body, most of us will probably feel more for a higher raw component in our diet at this time of year compared to a month ago, when soups and stews were more likely to nourish. Not accidentally, the spring season is traditionally a time of detoxification – the proverbial ‘spring clean’. I will write more about this later in the year.

Just like in athletic coaching, where we use the word ‘periodisation’, nature is a changing force and we are part of nature, so it makes a huge amount of sense to go with that flow, as opposed to trying to swim upstream, which after all is what happens when we try to force her body into the latest dietary fad – in some cases, akin to pushing the round peg into the proverbial square hole.

So, in interest, I consulted with Dr Google with regard to what plant-based foods that are seasonally available at this time of year. I managed to find a really nice article by Crush Magazine, which has tables of fruits and vegetables that are seasonally grown in this country. Because South Africa has lots of different climates, plus there are many different varieties of fruits and vegetables available, with different growing seasons, and because greenhouse growing can usually extend seasons, it is quite difficult to pick out trends. However, by consulting various sources (this table from SA Fruits Farms was particularly useful), we can start to differentiate growing cycles. Wherever you live in the world, this local information is likely to be easily found on the web, plus by talking to local farmers and market stall owners you can gain more insights.

My partner and co-author, Rachel Jesson, always observes that it is probably not accidental that the peak season for citrus fruit is in the winter – these fruits are known for their high vitamin C content, which is supportive to our immunity at a time of year when colds and flus are more common. Conversely, spring and summer are more known for the amazing availability of berries, which are extremely high in antioxidants. As far as vegetables go, if you shop at local farmers markets, it is clear that root vegetables such as turnips, parsnips and potatoes are more available during the autumn and winter seasons, whereas the spring and summer seasons bring a lot more salad vegetables, such as lettuce, rockets, watercress, tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers.

As I alluded to earlier in this article, by following the powerful force of nature, it makes a huge amount of sense to be eating more cooked and warming foods in the winter, which root vegetables obviously support, and more raw and cooling foods, which salad vegetables clearly support, in warmer weather. We can expand out from this article at a later stage into the theme of individuality – some people innately do better with more cooked food in their diets, whereas others thrive more on a higher percentage of raw foods. But for now, I would like to end by emphasising two points from this article: firstly, follow the flow of nature by actively seeking to buy fruits and vegetables that are in season, as opposed to being imported from overseas. Secondly, listen to what your body wants to eat – a truly mindful presence when it comes to food means that you don’t need people like myself educating you on nutrition, because your body ultimately knows best.