Figuring out how to eat healthy in today’s food landscape is wildly confusing.
An abundance of food tempts us while the manifestos of paleo pledges, tie-dye donning raw food advocates, and a cornucopia of other dietary regimens make it even harder to decide which food path to take.
Then there’s the “locavore movement.”
The philosophy is simple: eat local food. We know that local food is better for our environment and the economy. But what about our health? Is local food actually healthier for us?
Spending your money on local food has many benefits, including helping the environment, keeping resources within your community’s economy, and reducing your carbon footprint. And as an added bonus, consuming local food actually provides us with many health benefits.
Here are four reasons why eating local is actually healthier for you:
1. Local Produce Isn’t Travel Weary
The longer fruits and vegetables spend on a truck or in storage before being delivered to you, the greater the loss of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. The moment a piece of produce is picked or cut, its valuable nutrients begin decomposing. A study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition revealed that the vitamin C content of broccoli was cut in half when it was shipped from out of the country compared to when it was sourced locally. The bottom line: local produce eaten within a few days of being picked is more nutrient dense than produce that spent weeks traveling thousands of miles.
2. Local Produce is Picked at Peak Ripeness
Since traveling long distances can be a stressful adventure for produce, most non-local produce is picked before it is ripe so it can survive the journey. This practice is detrimental to nutrient content. When a produce is allowed to linger on the vine and fully ripen before being harvested, its nutrient content is higher. Local farmers allow produce to grow its own pace, enabling their roots to dive deeper into the earth, increasing the nutrients the food pulls from the soil. A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry even found that the levels of health-promoting antioxidants in blackberries more than quadrupled as they became fully ripe.
3. Local Produce is Most Likely Safer
There’s a unique kind of assurance that comes from looking a farmer in the eye at a farmers market or driving by the fields where your food comes from. Local farmers take pride in providing their community with safe, nutritious food. In many instances, this means they are less likely to use pesticides. It’s common practice for small farmers to use fewer chemicals than large, industrialized farms and many local small-scale farmers use organic methods even if they aren’t certified. Some even take the extra step to nourish plants with cover crops and other sustainable methods that put nutrients back in the soil.
4. Local Produce Tastes Better
Our taste buds are a good barometer for nutritional value. When nutrients degrade, so does flavor. The growing practices of local small-scale farmers encourage flavor and nutrition over appearance, while large-scale industrial farms breed for large yields and the ability to endure long journeys. You’ve probably learned firsthand that uniformly red, perfectly spherical, unblemished tomatoes in the supermarket are flavorless eye candy, while those scarred, lumpy heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market will provide you with a sweet, intense explosion of flavor (and nutrients) when you bite into it.
Eating local is not a fad diet or health trend—it’s a way of life.
It’s the practice of eating in rhythm with the seasons. There’s no rigorous meal plan or point system and no one is going to judge you for eating an orange in August or shopping at the supermarket. It’s all about doing the best we can and being mindful about where our food is coming from.
To add more local produce to your diet, find a local Michiana farmers market near you, sign up for a CSA, or even start a small vegetable garden in your own backyard! Eating local (and organic) whenever possible will make a tremendously positive impact not only on your health today, but also on the future health of the community and the environment.