I’ve been practicing medicine for over 20 years, and since the beginning, my belief was that improving health has to be grounded in nutrition — including shopping local + organic. For that reason, I’ve always found it interesting how detached we are from the sources of our food. I mean, think about it — when everything is operating normally in our world, we go to the grocery store, choose food from a pre-selected inventory, and leave; usually, without any thought as to where that food came from, how far it traveled, how it was grown, or even what’s really in it.
Fast forward to right now, we are just coming out of this long extended quarantine, during which we were disconnected from each other and going to grocery stores that were completely sterilized. It was a dystopian experience to say the least, and pushed us even further away from knowing where our food comes from.
After many of you spent over a year sanitizing and washing your hands like crazy, wiping down your food, and minimizing human contact—it’s time to give ourselves, and our guts, what they need: connection and locally grown organic food.
Here’s why this matters, and how to get started.
Why You Should Be Shopping Local + Organic
In my last blog post about the gut-pesticide connection, I talked about the many dangers of eating produce grown with pesticides . If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, the major takeaway is that shopping local + organic—preferably at farmer’s markets—is the safest option for your overall health and longevity, especially when it comes to the health of your gut. Aside from being safe, though, there are a ton of other benefits to shopping local and eating organic.
First, getting your fruits and vegetables from a farmer’s market allows you to connect with people that are growing their own food.
Compared to the sterilized environments we’ve become used to shopping in, this is a much more intimate and pleasant experience. It sounds like a small difference, but trust me, mental health-wise it makes all the difference. From a physical health perspective, farmer’s markets also provide you an opportunity to inoculate your gut with healthy bacteria. That’s right—eating organic fruits and veggies with a little dirt on them is not only okay, it’s healthy! A growing body of research has shown that exposure to dirt and bacteria is great for our gut microbiota and the gut… and a happy gut makes for a healthier life.
Also, there’s the fact that organic produce is healthier than conventional produce. Here’s why…
A Word on Organic Produce vs. Conventional
In addition to not having pesticide residue, organic produce (especially local + organic produce) usually has a higher vitamin content and more antioxidants when compared to conventional produce. This has to do with the fact that the soil on commercial farms has become increasingly nutrient-depleted by crops like corn, wheat, and soybeans, which suck up the nitrogen in the soil and decrease soil fertility.
Also, pesticides can lower the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables, simply because they either introduce toxins to their environment or chelate essential minerals needed by plants.
I understand that shopping local + organic isn’t doable for everyone, especially all the time. So instead, I advise buying organic when you can, and reading my latest article where I list the foods with the highest and lowest levels of pesticides.
The HAPPY GUT® Guide to Summer Produce
When shopping local + organic, you’re getting the fruits and vegetables that are in season, which means they’re meant to be grown at this time. Compared to a grocery store, this often means that the selection is more limited, but it’s important to consider why that is — and why it’s actually a good thing.
The reason you can get pretty much anything at the grocery store—like blueberries all year round, for example—is because the produce is almost always either:
- Genetically modified
- Grown in less-than ideal conditions.
In the Northeast, the blueberries you buy in November taste nothing like the ones you get June through August, when they’re in season. They’re like bitter, dry marbles. My point here is that shopping locally means you get produce that should be grown in the area and climate you live in, and as a result, your produce will contain more nutritional value and benefits, without having as great of a carbon footprint and environmental impact.
With that in mind, here are 10 foods that are in season right now!
10 Foods That Are In Season In Summer
Speaking of blueberries… they’re one of the healthiest foods out there. Packed with antioxidants and fiber, eating them daily can give your digestion a boost and aid in disease prevention.
Another stellar fruit, pretty much any berry (blackberries and raspberries included) is going to give you a lot of antioxidants, fiber, and phytonutrients. They make a great dessert in the summer when they’re super ripe and sweet.
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a nutrient with antioxidant properties that protects your vision. Studies have shown that lycopene can help prevent a number of health problems, including cancer, cardiac complications, inflammation, and more.
Contrary to popular belief, cherries aren’t actually considered berries… they’re just small fruits! Cherries are known for mitigating everything from inflammation and muscle soreness to blood pressure and oxidative stress.
5. Zucchini & Summer Squash
Zucchinis come in green and yellow varieties, and they’re sometimes referred to as summer squash. Aside from being super hydrating and rich in nutrients, zucchini has been shown to contain anti-genotoxic compounds, meaning it has the potential to help the body repair genetic material. I know, it’s wild.
6. Bell Peppers
We always think of oranges as the end-all be-all for vitamin C, but bell peppers have way more of it. Each color (red, yellow, green) contains different flavonoids and nutrients, but you really can’t go wrong with any of them. My favorites are the yellow peppers, because they add a touch of sweetness to a dish. What’s your favorite?
It’s hard to beat a ripe peach in the summertime, and like all fruits, they’re loaded with disease-fighting polyphenols. Like berries, these are sweet in the summer, making them my go-to when I crave something refreshing in a summer vinaigrette salad, like arugula, pistachios and peaches.
Need to add bulk to a vegetarian meal? Eggplant is a nutritious option. Recent studies have even shown that eating eggplants could help prevent or lower your risk of chronic diseases like cancer.
9. Fresh Herbs
Basil, dill, parsley, sage, mint, cilantro, thyme, and rosemary are all in season in the summer—so indulge in a bunch of fresh herbs before the colder seasons make them scarce! Or do as I do and grow them fresh in your garden. I couldn’t list out all the benefits of herbs if I tried, but trust me, they are numerous.
10. Green Beans
Looking for an easy summer food that is especially kind to your gut? Green beans are a low-FODMAP food, which means they have a lower concentration of a certain type of carbohydrate that can irritate the gut, causing gas and stomach pains. Unlike other fresh veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts that can cause gas and bloating if eaten raw, green beans are great for people with IBS or other chronic digestive issues, such as SIBO.
The Top Gut-Friendly Foods When Shopping Local + Organic
As “America’s Gut Doctor,” I’d be remiss not to share my favorite gut-friendly farmer’s market foods to look out for when shopping local + organic. All of these are packed with pre- or probiotics, which are necessary for a healthy microbiome.
Any variety of these will do: dill, sour, Polish, etc. Just remember that pickles have a lot of sodium, so I recommend eating them mindfully. Although pickle juice is very hydrating for hot summer days when you are losing salt through your sweat.
Not just any yogurt… you want probiotic-filled yogurt made with milk from grass-fed dairy cows, or a plant-based source like almonds or coconuts. Most farmer’s market dairy farmers will satisfy this criteria, but it doesn’t hurt to check. (P.S. The meat and dairy products at farmer’s markets are way higher quality than anything you’ll find at the grocery store. The farmers will tell you exactly how the animals are treated, and believe me, small farms have more humane practices than big-time commercial farms.)
3. Kimchi & Sauerkraut
Kimchi and sauerkraut are probiotic powerhouses that can help your body tackle everything from gut health and inflammation to skin troubles and weight loss.
4. Leafy Greens & Seasonal Veggies
I’ve probably said this a million times, but leafy greens are an essential part of any gut-healthy diet. Spinach, arugula, chard, kale—whatever you like, go for it.
5. Locally Grown Seasonal Fruits
People get scared of fruit because it contains sugar, but fruit typically contains fiber, which helps slow the blood sugar spike, and is from a natural source. Therefore, when eaten in moderation (which you should do with everything), fruit can provide the prebiotics and fiber you need for a happy gut.
The longer I practice medicine, the more convinced I am that one of the secrets to optimal health is connecting with our food on a more intimate level. Humans were not designed to gather our food from the sterilized aisles of Safeway or even the expertly designed to feel natural aisles of Whole Foods. By shopping local + organic, you can really connect with your food and the people who make it on a deeper level.