Eating Spring Foods and in Season for Health

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD

Cultures throughout the ages have celebrated the return of spring after a long, harsh winter by eating the first new greens they can find. Native Americans took advantage of fresh, wild plants to supplement their winter diets of dried foods; foraging in woodlands or near streams could bring in an entire meal in some cases.

Mushrooms often sprouted with the renewed moisture of spring; experts had to hunt for this very nutritious, but dangerous food. Women hunted dandelions, wild onions and leeks, ramps, chickweed, poke, and wild mustard (or a related plant called “creasy greens”) as soon as possible since many of these plants get more bitter as they grow older. Even young, tender leaves and shoots can be bitter, but these wild plants are very nutritious and have long been considered a tonic to wake up the liver and kidneys after a long winter diet of dried starches (like beans and pumpkin) and meat.[1]

Traditional (Algonquin) Green Salad: One-part wild onions or leeks, chopped, and one and a half parts dandelion leaves, to four parts watercress. Add a small amount of sheep or wood sorrel, and then flavor to taste. Add a bit of maple syrup for sweetness, or use other traditional flavorings like salt, along with enough oil to coat the leaves.


Spring Food locally available

Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Broccoli, Cabbages, Curly Kale, Rhubarb, Leeks, Spring Greens, rabbit, lamb, Wild Salmon, steelhead, Crab, Oysters, Cauliflower, Celeriac, Chicory, Cockles, Cod, Hake, Parsley, Mint, Spring Onions. Lettuces, Radishes, Spring Greens, Sea Kale, Watercress, Morel Mushrooms, Wild Garlic, Sorrel, Rhubarb, New Potatoes, Halibut, Sea Bass, Lemon Sole, Spinach.

All and many more of the foods listed here are available in our local farmers markets. Eating seasonally provides us with a opportunity to rebalance our immune systems, restore vital nutrients, control blood sugars and weight, reduce heart disease and cancer risks and improve digestion and cognition.

Here are a few reasons to spend your food dollars at local Farmers Markets or CSA’s when it comes to your health.

  1. Seasonal foods are picked at the peak of freshness and offer higher nutritional content than out of season unripe fruits and vegetables. When you eat with the seasons, you can enjoy a rainbow of colorful and diverse foods in your diet as well as providing your body with a wide variety of important vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that you need to maintain vibrant health. [2]
  2. Eating seasonal foods helps to support our bodies natural cleansing and healing abilities. For example, spring weather offers many tasty leafy greens and vegetables like dandelion greens, spring onions, and spring garlic which are great healing foods for helping detoxify your liver.[3]
  3. Fewer toxic chemicals used by local sustainable farmers; pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified seeds are limited or not used. This can be a major concern for local watersheds were communities get their drinking water from. Additionally, many of these chemicals are known cancer, neurological and reproductive toxins to both animals and people. [4]
  4. More money stays in local areas. When you buy seasonal, locally grown foods, you help provide financial support to the farmers in your area which helps to grow your local economy. It is a myth that local foods or organic cost more than produce trucked in. On average seasonal foods are priced more economically than out of season foods which will save you money on your grocery and even doctor bills.


The Science for Seasonally Eating

According to research studies, nutrient content changes in foods depending on which seasons they were produced in. For example, in a study conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food  in London, England researchers found that nutrient content was different in milk harvested in the summer versus winter. Because of the change in the cow’s diet to less fresh plants in the summer, these cows produced nutritionally different milks.  Japanese researchers also found tremendous differences in the nutritional content of spinach harvested in summer versus winter. [5], [6]

A Stanford study backs seasonal eating for healthy Microbiome; published in the Science journal; researchers found that the microbes in the members of the Hadza tribe in Tanzania change dramatically with each season, in sync with seasonal changes made to their diet.

The study showed that certain gut microbes that reside within the gut in one season may almost disappear in the next – suggesting there are dramatic changes taking place in the microbiome from one season to the next. The researchers concluded that the Hadza tribe’s gut microbes and their digestion is cyclical, and in sync with the precise bio-rhythm of nature. [7], [8], [9]

A study published by the University of Missouri confirmed availability of local food as key to improving food security. This is so very important for the low income of every community which are made up in large part by elderly and children. Most strategies to assist the hungry, including food banks and providing food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are short-term, emergency solutions. Those who rely on these programs face daily shortages of fresh and healthy foods, which lead to poor diet choices, nutritional deficiencies, and health problems. An expert at the University of Missouri says the production of sustainable, locally grown foods is key to providing long-term food security for communities.

“We have to recognize that access to food is a human right,” says Michelle Kaiser, researcher in the School of Social Work in the College of Human Environmental Sciences.[10]


So Let’s head out to a local Farmers Market, or CSA – our health will be better for it.











Eating Spring Foods ~ Asparagus

By Tammera J. Karr, PhD.

With spring weather comes seasonal foods like asparagus. This is one of those foods harvested from fields and meadows across Greece to Ireland, providing critical food-based nutrients for many with methylation challenges. Today we are learning more about the MTFHR gene that approximately 40% of the nation’s population. This gene is a possible cause of diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer and heart disease. Educator, author, and researcher Dr. Elizabeth Lipski shared, “it takes four generations to damage human genes and four more to repair the damage.” The food we eat every day is a leading cause of DNA damage, one we have complete control over.

This nutrient-dense food is high in folic acid and is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C, and thiamin. Asparagus has no fat, contains no cholesterol and is low in sodium. Asparagus is the leading whole food supplier among vegetables of folic acid. It can also boost energy levels, skin complexion, and hair.

Folate may reduce the risk of depression by preventing an excess of homocysteine from forming in the body. Homocysteine can block blood and other nutrients from reaching the brain. Too much homocysteine may also interfere with the production of the feel-good hormones serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These hormones regulate mood, sleep, and appetite.
Asparagus is one of the top-20 foods listed on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI). The index aims to give an idea of the overall health benefit of foods by measuring vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient content in relation to the caloric content. To earn a high ANDI rank, food must provide a high amount of nutrients for a small number of calories.

A 5.3-ounce serving provides 60% of the recommended daily allowance for folacin which is necessary for blood cell formation, growth, and prevention of liver disease. Folacin has been shown to play a significant role in the prevention of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, that cause paralysis and death in 2,500 babies each year. Its wealth of nutrients, fiber and very low sodium and calorie content make asparagus a nutritionally wise choice.

Why Does Asparagus Make Your Urine Smell When You Eat?
Asparagus contains a sulfur compound called mercaptan. It is also found in onions, garlic, broccoli, rotten eggs, and in the secretions of skunks. The signature smell occurs when this substance is broken down in your digestive system.

Not everyone has the gene for the enzyme that breaks down mercaptan, so some can eat all the asparagus they want without the distinctive smell. One study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found only 46 percent of British people tested produced the odor while 100 percent of French people did. (Another one of those government funded studies?)
Now let me get this right?

California leads the nation in asparagus production with more than 50,000 metric tons harvested annually. Most of this is marketed as fresh green asparagus. And there are 100 asparagus farmers left in Washington State. Before the Andean Trade Preferences Act of 1990 took effect 20 years ago, there were 250 growers.
According to the Capital Press an Agricultural news publication May 19, 2011; By eliminating tariffs, the act, later replaced by the Peruvian Free Trade Agreement, was intended to wean Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, and Ecuador away from cocoa leaf production for cocaine and toward asparagus.

U.S. aid and agricultural expertise helped establish asparagus farms, irrigation, and roads in Peru. Asparagus is a seasonal crop in the U.S., Peru is able to produce and export year-round for lower cost. “Now we have record imports of drugs and asparagus. The U.S. asparagus industry, some 500 growers, bore the cost of a drug control policy that failed, said ” Alan Schreiber, administrator of the Washington Asparagus Commission.

Meanwhile, U.S. production went from 244 million pounds in 1990 to 79.9 million pounds in 2010, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Washington State lost 82 percent of its production, falling from 102 million pounds in 1990 to 18 million in 2010.

All the more reason to buy your vegetables from local farmers markets and CSA programs – or grow your own as much as possible.

How to Select and Purchase Asparagus:
 Select bright green asparagus with closed, compact, and firm tips. Also look for cut ends that are not dry.
 Select asparagus stalks that are about the same thickness so cooking will be uniform. Thickness does not influence quality.
 If the tips are slightly wilted, freshen them up by soaking them in cold water.

How to Store Fresh Asparagus:
 Storage of fresh asparagus is important. Fresh asparagus must be kept refrigerated at all times.
 Wrap a moist paper towel around the stem ends and place in the refrigerator.
 Keep fresh asparagus moist until you intend to use it.

To your good health and local fresh foods.