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Fresh, Seasonal, and Local: Three Ways Eating with the Harvest Improves Your Health

Publication: Austin Medical Times, Houston Medical Times

Tomatoes, peppers, peaches, and strawberries. It wouldn’t be summer in Texas without our popular fresh fruits and vegetables. But the joy – and the results – of gardening, along with major nutritional benefits can be experienced in all seasons. Think butternut squash and pumpkins in the fall. Lettuce, spinach, and broccoli in colder weather. 

Eating with the seasons means different things to different people. Locally fresh and available produce can vary based on whether you reside in a rural area or a city, and the region in which you live. Your local climate will also impact the types of produce available to you.

But whether you’re hitting up your local farmer’s market, scanning the aisles of the grocery store, or growing a garden in your backyard, choosing fresh, in-season produce offers health benefits at any age and stage of life. Here are three things you should know about eating with the seasonal harvest.

Fresh produce contributes to lower cancer risk as part of a plant-forward diet. 
The connection between diet and cancer risk is an important topic we often hear about in the news and from our physicians. What and how much we eat matters. The World Cancer Research Fund has estimated that roughly 20 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States are related to poor nutrition, excess body weight, and physical inactivity. Nutritionists recommend eating more cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, along with berries, and leafy green vegetables, all of which rate high in essential vitamins and nutrients. 

A diet rich in seasonal produce can transform the way we think about food. 
A well-balanced diet full of nutrients that lower the risk of disease is important to overall well-being and critical to preventing and fighting cancer. “Eating the rainbow” refers to eating a colorful diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Guidelines from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) help make it easy to remember. Its recommendation includes the “two-thirds” rule, meaning two-thirds or more of your plate should comprise vegetables, fruits, beans, or whole grains, and one-third or less of the plate can be a small portion of protein.

Eating fruits and vegetables may help you regain strength after cancer treatment. 
Our dietary needs change at different stages in life, and this is also true for those with cancer. During cancer treatment, the cancerous cells are killed but sometimes healthy cells are damaged too. This can cause side effects that lead to eating problems, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). While going through cancer treatment, some patients will experience loss of appetite, nausea, a sore throat, or trouble swallowing, among other side effects. Others will be instructed by their oncologist to maintain a low-fiber diet instead of high-fiber fruits and vegetables. The NIH also reports that cancer patients may need extra protein and calories. Treatment can affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Seasonal produce can help rebuild these nutrients after treatment ends.

Another benefit of eating seasonally? Teaching our communities and families where our food comes from can help form healthy habits early, preparing younger generations to make healthier decisions. From cancer prevention to nutrition counseling before, during, or after cancer treatment, Texas Oncology is proud to support a healthier lifestyle that reduces disease risk and improves overall wellbeing. 

Michelle Ashworth, M.D., is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Round Rock, 2410 Round Rock Ave., Suite 150, in Round Rock, Texas.

Leslie Gutierrez, AGACNP-BC, APRN, MSN, is a nurse practitioner at Texas Oncology–Houston Memorial City, 925 Gessner Road, Suite 550, in Houston, Texas.

This article originally appeared in the September issues of: