Most of us understand the economic benefits of “buying local”. We like the idea of putting our money back into our own communities rather than into the hands of large, wealthy corporations. By buying local instead of buying food that has been trucked, shipped or flown from far off locations, we know that we are also helping the planet by reducing fuel emissions. But, when it comes to buying local food, did you know that there are also a number of real, significant health benefits for YOU?
Food that has to be shipped long distances is picked early, before it’s ripe, so it has a longer “shelf life”. I think we all know how much better food tastes when it’s at its prime (think of the difference between a fresh, local strawberry and a strawberry from the grocery store in the middle of winter). But just as there is a difference in flavour, there is also generally a difference in the nutritional value. Getting food that is local, ripe and fresh means its nutrients are also at their prime. Many vitamins start to degrade once food has been picked, especially in the artificial lights and environments of shipping containers and trucks.
Another health benefit of eating what’s available locally and in season is that it encourages us to eat a larger variety of foods than we might otherwise. In the spring there will be plenty of asparagus, then come strawberries, later string beans and corn. Our favourite farm stand might have chicken one week and pork the next. By buying what’s locally available and eating according to the season, we are taking in a larger variety of nutrients, which is extremely beneficial to our health.
MORE REAL FOOD
Perhaps the most important advantage to buying locally is that we will inevitably be eating more whole, real foods and less processed, packaged foods. This is always the number one piece of advice I give to clients looking to improve their health. Eat real food. Food that has been highly processed (think of white, ready-in-a-minute rice, for example) has been stripped of most of its nutritional value to give it a longer shelf life and make it easier and quicker to prepare. Most food found on store shelves, in boxes and cans, also have a list of ingredients the length of your arm, many of which we’d likely be better off not consuming.
Hopefully, you’re convinced of the health benefits of choosing locally produced food. Better for you and tastes better – win, win.
Shannon Sponagle is a Nutritional Consultant practising on the South Shore of Nova Scotia and online at www.shannonsponagle.com. She is also Ambassador for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and a huge fan of her local farmer’s market.