Although sprinkles of snow have graced parts of April, summer is fast approaching. With summer’s arrival comes a range of opportunities for us to make good food decisions. Given the vast number of often-conflicting fad diets that always seem to be circling social media, what do we really know about healthy eating?
The good news is, there is not one single magic formula for eating well. A survey of world cultures reveals a stunning diversity of diets that can serve as a foundation for a healthy life. There are, however, some general lessons we can apply. Food writer Michael Pollan’s core rules for eating (explored in much more detail in his book “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto”) remain sound advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Eating local produce is a great strategy for meeting all of these goals. Shorter transport distances mean less time between field and plate, which in turn means that foods are allowed to ripen naturally. This translates to fresher, more flavorful food.
No food is more local than the food you raise yourself. Growing your own food doesn’t require a lot of land or prior experience. Those with only a windowsill can sprout greens for salads or grow small potted herbs like basil, chives, cilantro and parsley. With a porch or balcony and at least 6 hours of sun daily, tomatoes in pots as small as 18 inches across are another great option. Alternatively, community gardens offer both land and the expertise of more experienced gardeners.
If your current living arrangements or schedule to not allow you to grow your own produce, farmers markets, grocery stores or even friends and neighbors can be a source of fresh local foods. Keep in mind that eating local means eating seasonally. Most produce will have a period of several weeks or months during which it will be abundant and tasting best. Visit https://ofbf.org/whats-in-season/ for help.
One of our favorite summer foods are fresh garden tomatoes. These can be used in myriad ways, but a delicious option is Caprese salad. This simple recipe tops tomato slices with fresh mozzarella cheese and basil leaves. This is then drizzled with olive oil and seasoned to taste. Sprinkles of salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and Italian seasoning all work well.
Summer is an ideal time to remember that it is not just what we eat, but how we eat that matters. Rushed eating can lead us to eat too much, while many “convenience” foods are over-processed and nutrient poor. Taking the time to prepare a meal from scratch and sharing food with family or friends is a wonderful way to encourage mindful eating, where we take the time to savor food. Two summer traditions, cookouts and picnics, provide opportunities to practice mindful eating. The change in venue and celebratory nature of both events invites us to step away from our busyness and preoccupations and truly enjoy our food.
So remember to eat well this summer. Be on the lookout for local options, maybe even in your own backyard. And take the time to make eating a celebration and a chance to connect with family and friends.
Anna Kauffman, M.D. is a family physician at Mercy Health-Bluffton Family Medicine caring for patients of all ages. Ross Kauffman, Ph.D., is an epidemiologist and the director of public health at Ohio Northern University. Ross and Anna married in 2013. Both are casual gardeners and enjoy eating fresh local food.