Food as Medicine: Five Health Benefits of Eating Local
Eating local is good for the planet, the community, and individual health.
Bastyr University adheres to a whole-food philosophy that guides all of its nutrition programs, emphasizing the consumption of a variety of foods in their least-processed forms. When assessing health and wellness, the university integrates mind, body, and spirit by drawing connections between whole food, exercise science and health psychology.
This month, Fernanda Brusamolin Larson, MS, CN, Assistant Professor in Bastyr's Department of Nutrition talks about the health benefits of eating local.
Local foods are typically defined as those grown within a 100-mile radius of where you live. Many of us try to eat local to support our community of growers and to help reduce our carbon footprints, but lucky for us, eating locally also offers some unique nutritional benefits.
Maximized Nutrient Density
Locally grown foods are usually picked when they are ripe (rather than being picked early and ripened in transit or in storage), which means they have had more time to absorb nutrients from the soil and develop their full colors and flavors.
This is good news for locavores, as studies have shown that vine-ripened berries can have up to 40% more antioxidants than unripe ones. In nutritional terms, you can generally assume that the more colors, the more nutrients.
No Artificial Preservatives (or Ripeners)
For many crops to be shipped across the globe they need to be harvested unripen (see above), which, in addition to reducing the nutritional density, also means that some of the more delicate crops require waxes and seals for protection, and may be submitted to artificial ripening process with ethylene gas.
Local crops don’t require a long transportation process because they are picked ripe and consumed quickly, which means you can avoid all these unnecessary preservation methods.
Access to the All-Natural Experts
Small farmers tend to utilize less pesticides in their crops compared to industrialized farms, even if they are not certified organic (often the certification process takes a very long time and is very costly), and often they go far beyond the requirements for organic production, utilizing regenerative and even biodynamic methods.
But you don’t have to wonder. The real advantage of buying produce at the farmers market directly from your local growers is that you can ask them about their pest control methods, what’s in season, and even how they like to use their seasonal crops in the kitchen.
A Healthier Planet for Healthier Bodies
Foods that are shipped long distances contribute with a higher carbon footprint than those grown locally, and diminishing the distance that foods travel from farm to the consumer can help reduce CO2 emissions and overall pollution.
Less pollution means cleaner air and better health for everyone.
Better Taste, Better Habits
Nothing is better than the taste and smell of a fresh ripe peach or plump tomato from the farmer’s market.
When healthy foods taste that good, we eat more of them, which is an instant way to improve our overall health.