Nutrition

Best In-Season Produce By Month: April

Shopping for in-season produce offers multiple benefits, not the least of which being that it enables you to discover how different some fruits and vegetables taste when harvested during their peak. This April, grab all the opportunities you can to incorporate fresh, delicious produce into meals and snacks while simultaneously supporting local farms and communities … Continued

Shopping for in-season produce offers multiple benefits, not the least of which being that it enables you to discover how different some fruits and vegetables taste when harvested during their peak. This April, grab all the opportunities you can to incorporate fresh, delicious produce into meals and snacks while simultaneously supporting local farms and communities by shopping in season.

Additional benefits of in-season shopping include a lower grocery bill and the fact that planning meals and snacks around seasonal foods encourages variety and adventurous eating while increasing the vibrancy, nutrient-density and flavor in your diet.

Why “In-Season?”

“In-season” produce includes fruits and vegetables that are purchased and consumed as close as possible to the time at which they are harvested. The practice of buying produce in-season has gained popularity as it offers multiple benefits, such as high quality nutrition, lower price, enhanced flavor, and support for local businesses.

Eating produce that coincides with its season of harvest is an easy way to infuse the diet with potent vitamins and antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables that fully mature on their parent plant and are then harvested at peak ripeness, which imbues them with more rich and complex flavors.

In a study comparing bioactive compounds and antioxidant levels in different types of berries, it was found that greater antioxidant levels were associated with berries that were ripe to overripe. Antioxidants are chemical compounds that protect the body’s cells against free radical damage. Free radicals are unstable molecules formed during natural body processes, such as the breakdown of food, and when the body is exposed to pollutants, such as tobacco smoke. When foods are grown out of season, artificial lights and greenhouses are often used to manipulate growing conditions, which can lead to fruits and vegetables that lack color and flavor comparatively, due to the controlled environment and size constraints of smaller growing spaces.

Because fruits and vegetables are composed of 70–90% water, rapid rates of respiration result in nutrient degradation once the produce is separated from its source of nutrients, such as trees and vines. This means that out-of-season produce that is shipped long distances may suffer from the implications of the degradation of nutrients such as vitamin C.

Buying in-season produce is also a simple way to save money on healthy food. The abundant and readily available supply of in-season produce allows for lower costs and easier access. Stocking up on in-season produce at local farmers markets and freezing and/or storing the extra for later is a great way to make your seasonal purchases last.

Small businesses, such as farmers markets and local orchards commonly sell local produce harvested by nearby farms; the shorter the distance that produce has to travel to the store in which it’s sold, the fresher it will be when it reaches your table. When unsure about the origins of an item, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask your grocer for more information about where the item was grown.

In Part 10 of our 12-part series highlighting in-season fruits and vegetables by month, let’s look at the produce that peaks during the month of April.

If you’re ready to incorporate in-season produce during the month of April, here are some in-season fruits and vegetables to look for along with some suggestions that will make preparing the produce easy and delicious:

Asparagus:

Asparagus is a green vegetable that’s recognized for its long, pointy spears and bitter, earthy taste. Garden asparagus, otherwise known as Asparagus officinalis, is an herbaceous perennial plant that is a member of the lily family. The small spears at the top of this vegetable are actually young shoots of the plant that, if left to grow, become large, feathery fern-like plants. While asparagus plants grow throughout the world, the biggest producers are China, Peru, Germany and the United States as they thrive in temperate climates where the ground freezes. Growing asparagus does require significant patience, as it can take 3–4 years to produce edible spears once the seeds have been planted.

The leaves of asparagus are extremely rich in flavonoids, which are a diverse group of phytonutrients that help regulate cellular activity and fight off free radicals that cause oxidative stress on the body. In other words, they help the body function more efficiently while protecting it against everyday toxins and stressors. Asparagus also has anti-microbial properties protecting against human pathogenic isolates and cytotoxic activities.

Asparagus can be cooked many different ways, though roasting, grilling, steaming, boiling and pan-roasting are the most common. Thicker spears are better used for roasting, grilling, stir-frying and eating raw in salads. Whether thin or thick, be sure to thoroughly wash and trim asparagus before cooking.

Lemons:

Among the world’s most popular citrus fruits, lemons grow on lemon trees and are a hybrid of the original citron and lime. Though they have a naturally sour taste, there are many ways to enjoy lemons by adding them to fresh dishes.

Lemon is an important medicinal plant of the family Rutaceae, known for its alkaloids, which have anticancer effects and antibacterial potential. Citrus flavonoids are known to be antifungal, antidiabetic, and antiviral while scavenging for free radicals in the body. Lemons may also aid in weight loss, digestion, relief from constipation, and eye care.

Look for unblemished, firm lemons that feel heavy for their size and have no tinges of green, which indicates that they are unripe. Avoid very pale lemons, as they are usually older and contain less juice. The best lemons for juicing or serving in wedges are those with smooth, thin skin.

Incorporate lemons into your diet by using them to flavor your water, adding lemon juice to soups for bright, fresh flavors, or squeezing a wedge of lemon over cooked vegetables or a fresh salad in lieu of high-calorie salad dressings.

Papaya:

The papaya is the fruit of the Carica papaya plant that originates in Central America and Southern Mexico but is now grown in many parts of the world. It has a mild to fairly sweet flavor and a creamy, butter-like texture. When ripe, a papaya melts in your mouth and tastes similar to cantaloupe or tropical mango.

Papaya’s health benefits include asthma prevention and the anti-cancer properties associated with zeaxanthin, an antioxidant. The risk of developing asthma is lower in those who consume this fruit due to its high content of beta-carotene which may reduce the lung inflammation or swelling that can lead to asthma. Lutein and zeaxanthin can help protect eyes from harmful high-energy light waves like ultraviolet rays in sunlight. Diets rich in these two nutrients may help delay age-related diseases of the eye.

Ripe papaya is best eaten raw, while green, underripe papaya is preferred for cooking. Use scooped-out papaya halves as a serving dish for fruit, chicken or seafood salads. Season unripe papaya with cinnamon, honey and butter and bake until warm and soft.

Pineapple:

Pineapple, otherwise known as Ananas comosus, is a perennial plant of the family Bromeliaceae and its edible fruit. This fruit is native to tropical and subtropical locations and has become a characteristic ingredient in the meat, vegetable, fish and rice dishes of Pan-Asian cuisine. Pineapple is also sometimes used as a pastry filling or in baked desserts.

Pineapple is a rich source of vitamins and minerals, bioactive compounds, and dietary fiber. It has also been shown to offer anti-inflammatory effects, antioxidant activity, and digestive health benefits.

To cut a pineapple, cut off the top of the fruit and then each of the rough sides of the skin. Cut the flesh in half, then in half again. Finally, chop the large pieces of fruit into smaller, bite-sized chunks or to desired shape.

Arugula:

Arugula is a micronutrient powerhouse that is rich in a broad range of metabolites, including tannins, terpenoids, alkaloids and flavonoids with antimicrobial characteristics. Part of the Brassicaceae family, arugula is thought to have various medicinal properties, such as tumorigenesis inhibition. This leafy green vegetable is packed with vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate (a B vitamin) and has a peppery flavor that works well in salads. Experiment with fresh arugula by combining it with your favorite nuts and/or seeds, a light vinaigrette and some fresh, raw vegetable add-ins, or add arugula to your favorite wrap or pesto recipe. Be sure to check out Rejuvenan’s Arugula and Watermelon Salad with Balsamic Vinegar Glaze.

This salad features diverse ingredients that meld together beautifully: sweet, crunchy watermelon, peppery arugula, zesty red onion and a simple reduction of balsamic vinegar. Simmering or ‘reducing’ the balsamic vinegar in this recipe thickens it and brings out its sweeter, more complex flavors. Round out your meal with a cup of bean-based soup.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 5 oz. baby arugula
  • 8 cups (1-inch chunks or larger) seedless watermelon
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts* or chopped walnuts
  • 2 tbsp chopped mint leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

To make the balsamic glaze, place balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan and simmer until reduced to 3 tablespoons, about 6 to 7 minutes. Arrange arugula over a large platter, Top with watermelon, red onion, pine nuts and mint leaves. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and sprinkle with black pepper.

Fruits and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet and knowledge of seasonal produce is key to helping you reach optimum health while saving money, consuming high quality nutrients, enjoying fresh flavor, and supporting local businesses. For more recipe inspiration, download the Rejuvenan app and gain access to hundreds of recipes as well as our team of physicians and dietitians, whenever you need them, wherever you need them.

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