Spring is in the air, friends! The weather has definitely been warming up in Montana, signs of thaw and growing plants are everywhere. With all of these changes, have you noticed your body feeling a bit different? Maybe you’ve stopped craving warm soups and stews, or maybe you’re longing to get outside and start working in your garden or taking a walk.
Modern life may mess with our body’s rhythms, but there’s no denying that Spring has the power to make us feel different. The days are longer, the air is warmer, and most of us are feeling our bodies revving up and getting ready for more physical activity.
And it’s not just the weather - fresh spring foods have nutrients that get our bodies ready for a new season in some amazing ways. Mother Nature seems to know exactly what our bodies need, when we need them. Today, let’s dive into some of the fresh Spring fruits and veggies you’re craving - why they’re just so great, and how you can add them to your weekly meal plans.
Fiber: Moving You From Winter to Spring
Before we dig into the unique benefits of spring produce, let’s talk about one big reason why your body craves fruit and veggies when the weather starts warming up.
Most likely, when the weather has been cold, your diet has been focused more around nutrient-dense foods: hot soups, stews, and casseroles, usually heavy with meat, carbs, and dairy. And there’s a reason for this! Cold weather causes your blood pressure to increase, and triggers your body to burn more calories (and if you’re out in the cold regularly, more brown fat) in order to stay warm.
But when the weather starts getting warm, it triggers a shift in your body, and you start craving the very thing that all of this Spring produce provides: fiber!
There are two kinds of dietary fiber. There’s soluble fiber, so called because it dissolves in water, which helps lower your blood’s cholesterol and glucose levels. Then there’s insoluble fiber, which helps move your food through your digestive system and decreases constipation. Both of these fibers help you feel more full, help your digestive system work more efficiently (here’s a recent blog post on that!), and help shake your body out of “hibernation mode”
(Side note: In addition to getting things moving, fiber also reduces your risk of developing heart disease, digestive disease, and diabetes. So make sure you’re getting plenty of fiber year-round!)
In addition to fiber, these Spring delicacies deliver doses of nutrients that do your body a world of good. So, without further ado…
8 Spring Fruits and Veggies That Bless Your Body
Ah, rhubarb - the best vegetable to happen to pies since pumpkins! In most parts of the country, rhubarb is only available fresh in April and May, so when you find it fresh, don’t miss the opportunity. While it may look like celery’s magenta cousin, rhubarb tastes nothing like celery - its tart, lip-puckering taste makes it perfect for desserts, jams and compotes. And its hearty amount of catechins boost fat metabolism in the liver, helping wake your body from its wintery, energy-storing state.
How to eat it: If you like a tender, sweet rhubarb, you can chop it and toss it with honey (or maple syrup) and spices, bake it or simmer it on the stove until it breaks down, and top it with granola or Greek yogurt before serving. Or, if you like your rhubarb still a little crisp, quickly sear matchstick cuts with avocado oil, a tiny amount of maple syrup, herbs and salt until it’s tender and glossy; serve that alongside a nice slice of lean pork roast or rotisserie chicken. (Just don’t eat the leaves on the ends of the stalks - they’re poisonous!)
Like rhubarb, asparagus can only be found fresh and local in the spring. Asparagus is chock-full of wonderful nutrients, especially potassium, folate, and chromium, all of which can help regulate blood sugar and reduce bloating. It also provides a good dose of vitamins and antioxidants, which can help break down free radicals in your system.
How to eat it: Asparagus cooks quick and easy - just toss with olive oil and salt, then sear, roast or grill it for a few minutes until it just starts to get tender (it will continue to cook after removing it from heat, so don’t overdo it!). If you want to have leftovers, the best way to cook it is to steam it until tender, then transfer it to an ice bath to cool it before serving or storing.
Broccoli is an anti-inflammatory machine, with a big dose of sulforaphane that blocks the enzymes linked to inflammation in the body (and particularly the joints). It also provides a dose of iron, potassium, and vitamins K and C, which is known for lowering cortisol levels.
How to eat it: There are many ways to cook broccoli - roasting, stir-frying, steaming - but cooking it at high temperatures can significantly reduce the amount of chlorophyll, vitamin C, soluble proteins and glucosinolates that it provides. To get all of the goodness that broccoli offers, gently steam it until it is just tender, and then serve with salt and pepper, lemon juice, a shake of your favorite seasonings, toasted nuts, or anything else that will tickle your taste buds.
Spinach and Other Leafy Greens
Popeye was onto something about spinach. Along with red leaf lettuce, arugula, and radicchio, the first crop of spinach is almost ready for harvesting, and while it can’t give you instant superhuman strength, it can give you some muscle-building protein and iron, along with a host of other vitamins and nutrients that keep all parts of your body working well. Spinach is also one of the best dietary sources of lutein, which is theorized to promote eye health and reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
How to eat it: As with broccoli, if you want all the benefits of spinach, you have to go easy on the heat. In fact, the best way to eat spinach is raw! So throw a handful of leaves into your morning smoothie, layer it into your sandwiches, and boost your salads with one of the most powerful greens out there.
Is there anything better than fresh spring peas? Well, some kids might disagree with me, but I think they’re wonderful. Full of protein and fiber, peas also offer a good dose of carotenoids and polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that can keep disease-causing free radicals at bay.
How to eat it: Peas can be quickly steamed, and then tossed into any dish that needs a little green zing - a potato side dish, pasta primavera, a hearty salad, and more! To make them the star attraction, simmer them with a little bit of chicken broth and garlic, then top with fresh herbs or a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
Speaking of fresh herbs, they’ll be popping out of the ground soon, too! There are so many wonderful herbs out there, each with their own amazing flavor. Some easy ones you can grow yourself include mint, chives, basil, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and rosemary. Herbs are loaded with antioxidants and more: rosemary has anti-inflammatory properties, mint’s menthol relaxes the tissues in your digestive tract, oregano’s phytochemicals help you fight infection, and the rientin and viceninare found in basil can keep your white blood cells healthy.
How to eat it: There are so many ways to enjoy herbs! You can use them as seasonings in nearly every dish, and you can enjoy them dried in teas. A sprig of mint can liven up your next glass of water, some basil and oregano can brighten your sauces, and rosemary and sage can enhance the savoriness of chicken and pork dishes.
Radishes may seem a little insubstantial - kind of watery and plain. But beneath that humble appearance lurks a big dose of vitamins K and C, B6, niacin, folate, and pantothenic acid, plus other goodies that make radishes a free radical’s nightmare. And for those of you suffering from spring allergies or a cold, you might want to munch on some radishes - they actually have anti-congestive properties!
How to eat it: Add zest to a salad with thinly sliced radishes, or use them to top some cheese and crackers. They are also great to crunch whole, especially with a homemade dip of Greek yogurt, herbs, salt, and pepper.
There are few Spring treats more delightful than a perfectly ripe apricot. With its velvety skin and its sweet and slightly tart flesh, it smells and tastes of spring sunshine. And if that weren’t enough, it’s also packed with Vitamin A (aka beta carotene, great for the eyes), Vitamin C (an immune system booster), and Vitamin E (great for the skin, and also a powerful antioxidant that might protect against certain types of cancer).
How to eat it: Apricot season only lasts a few weeks, and fortunately there are plenty of ways to take advantage of them while they last. Eat them raw and enjoy their pure taste. Put them in a smoothie with frozen peaches, water, a hint of maple syrup, and a pinch of ground cardamom. Slice them on salads with goat cheese and a light vinaigrette. Bake them in tarts, or simmer them and serve warm over ice cream. The options are endless!
The Benefits of Eating Seasonally
We live in an age where so many foods are available to us year round, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. We have access to such great produce anytime we go to the grocery store, and this can help a great deal with keeping our bodies healthy.
But there’s something special about seasonal foods - those fruits and veggies that reach their peak for just a few weeks or months each year. When I think about my favorite Summer foods, my mind immediately leaps to fresh tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, ripe sweet corn, juicy watermelon and cantaloupe - all foods that are at their true peak in those warm months, and just don’t taste nearly as good when bought out of season. When you eat food that’s in season, it tastes better because it is meant to be eaten at that time, when nature has prepared it and when your body craves it.
Make sure to always keep an eye out for produce that is in season and at peak freshness. Not only will you get a tasty treat, you’ll be getting the food at its best condition and nutritional value.