Along with spring comes much excitement…warmer weather, cherry blossoms, spending more time outdoors and of course the abundant return to farmers markets! Whenever we speak of the benefits of our local farmers markets we hear comments such as “they create a stronger economy” or “they decrease our environmental impact”, which are both very important, but what about the benefits to our health? Could shopping at a farmers market actually be healthy for us? Absolutely! Here is how:
Time Spent Outdoors in Nature
The very act of walking in the market and breathing the fresh air has amazing health benefits in itself. Spending time in a natural setting has been well documented to improve immunity, decrease anxiety and stress and lower blood pressure while increasing energy. More time outdoors also means more time soaking up precious Vitamin D from the sun, which often gets depleted over the long winter months.
Fresh, Nutrient Dense Food
Buying local from a farmers market usually means produce has been vine ripened and harvested within the last one or two days. This results is higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals and natural sugars creating healthier and more flavourful food. Ever wonder why strawberries purchased from the grocery store in January just do not taste quite right? Produce may lose up to 45% of its nutrients within 48 hours of picking. Imagine what that could mean for grocery store fruits and veggies, which potentially spend several days to weeks in transit, storage, plus even more time sitting on the shelves of the store.
Eating With the Seasons
Do you notice how most of us crave warm hearty stews in November and fresh raw salads or berries in August? Nature is brilliant; it gives us exactly what our body needs when we need it. Winter is a time for nourishment and warmth with rooted vegetables and winter squashes while summer provides us with cool, cleansing greens like spinach, parsley and dandelion leaves. Ecologists consider the changing of seasons essential for re-balancing the earth’s resources, as a Nutritionist I believe their importance is to synchronize the food which is necessary to balance our own body’s resources and nutrient levels.
The tempting aisles of chips, pop and cookies will seem miles away as you stroll farmers market stands heaped with nutrient rich items like; leafy greens, carrots, peppers and mushrooms, all while taking in the scent of fresh herbs and berries. Shopping at farmers markets allow us to effortlessly fill our fridge full of nutritious whole foods leaving little room for depleting processed ones. Even the breads, baked goods and fruit preserves found at the market are made with whole real foods are are without most additives, artificial flavours and colours.
I often describe the Vancouver farmers markets as small towns nestled within our big city. It’s a place where one may build strong relationships with local farmers, fishers and fellow market shoppers. Several studies have found a correlation between a sense of community belonging with physical and mental health. Perceived community support seems to lower stress and anxiety levels, increase self-worth, improve overall mental health and even decrease instances of chronic disease.
Looking for the next health trend? Try shopping at your local farmer’s market! It is more than just a place to shop; it’s a direct way to invest in your community, your earth and of course your health. What to do with all those beautiful veggies? Try my Farmers Market Salad recipe.
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Heather Woodruff CNP RNCP is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner who has seen firsthand how the food we consume has a direct impact on our overall health. Her appreciation of whole, fresh foods began while growing up in rural Alberta where her summers were spent helping in the garden; picking carrots, shelling peas and eating copious amounts of raspberries right from the bush. When she’s not puttering in the kitchen, Heather can be found surfing some North Pacific waves, fighting for good kale at the farmers market and perfecting her yoga asanas.
Farmers Market photo by Cleber Mori /CC BY