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Food for Thought

Does the Change of Seasons Mean a Change in Diet?

With spring upon us (according to the calendar, anyway), the remaining snow on the ground will soon be replaced by tulips, daffodils and lilacs. But the landscape isn’t the only change that spring will bring. As seasons change, so do the foods we eat.

saladDuring cold New England winters, our bodies seem to crave “comfort food” and hearty meals like stews, pastas and casseroles — meals that usually contain high calories and fat content.

We crave these foods because our bodies — and our brains — need them. They often contain carbohydrates, which are soothing and calming. Also, numerous studies have shown that the brain actually produces feelings of happiness when we consume high-calorie, high-fat foods.

But with springtime around the corner, we may notice that our cravings for carbs will be replaced by lighter fare.

“The warmer weather increases our body temperature,” says Barbara Dutra, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “Thus, our metabolism may slow down, which means our bodies recognize the need for fewer calories. Also, we start spending more time outdoors, which means less time sitting bored in front of the TV eating snacks.”

Dutra also notes the importance of staying hydrated in the warmer weather, as our bodies lose water by sweating as a way of staying cool.

What better way to adjust our diets to the new season than to take advantage of the availability of plentiful, fresh produce?

“Not only are seasonal foods more affordable, but eating fruits and vegetables that are a variety of different colors means we’re getting higher levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which can help prevent or delay some types of cell damage,” Dutra says.

fresh produceAntioxidants can be found in foods with beta-carotene (sweet potatoes, carrots, dark/leafy greens, cantaloupe), vitamin C (bell peppers, broccoli, oranges, strawberries, tomatoes) and vitamin E (tofu, spinach, nuts, avocados, sunflower seeds, olive oil).

For those who are afraid that loading up on fresh produce this spring may put a dent in the wallet, Dutra says there are ways to make eating healthy more affordable.

Products at farmer’s markets are often less expensive than grocery stores, and some markets accept federally funded health and nutrition program cards like SNAP and WIC. Dutra also highlights the many other advantages to shopping at local farm stands.

“Not only do we have the opportunity to buy locally grown foods that are in season, picked ripe at its peak in flavor and nutrition, and often cheaper, we might see fruits and vegetables that are new to us and not always in the supermarket, such as gooseberries or rhubarb,” Dutra says. “The farmers can also give us tips on how to cook with their produce. Furthermore, we have the opportunity to help support our local farmers and farmland.”

Another alternative is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. With this program, people can buy into a season’s worth of food from local farms and pick it up at a given location once a week.bowl of mixed berries

If none of these options work for your lifestyle, frozen products are often cheaper than fresh and provide similar nutritional value. Although some think that the frozen produce in grocery stores is zapped of its nutritional value, that’s not true.

Fruits and vegetables chosen for freezing tend to be processed at their peak ripeness, a time when — as a general rule — they are most nutrient-packed. While the first step of freezing vegetables — blanching them in hot water or steam to kill bacteria — causes some water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C and the B vitamins to break down or leak out, the subsequent flash-freeze locks the vegetables in a relatively nutrient-rich state.

In the end, Dutra says an important rule of thumb is to choose a variety of foods that are comforting for different seasons.

“Focus on different dishes with changes in weather, but always aim for well-balanced meals,” Dutra explains. “For instance, in the warmer weather, some might find non-fat Greek yogurt with sliced fresh fruit (such as strawberries or apples) refreshing for breakfast, whereas others would’ve leaned toward warm oatmeal in the winter. The idea is that, no matter what time of year, meals should include the right balance of a starch (grains, fruit), lean protein (dairy from milk/yogurt) and fiber (whole grains, fruit).”

Healthy Seasonal Spring Recipes

Salmon Salad

Serves 2

salmon saladIngredients

1/2 cup dry wheatberries, simmered until tender (wheatberries can be substituted by other grains, like brown rice or quinoa, especially if you don’t have a lot of time)
1 can wild Alaskan salmon (fresh if you have leftovers!)
1 bell pepper, diced
2 Tbsp capers
2 cups baby spinach, chopped (or other greens such as kale, arugula)
2 Tbsp chopped pecans

Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp olive oil


Mix ingredients and top with dressing. Serve and enjoy. 

Adapted from Kath Younger at

Roast Pork with Sweet Onion-Rhubarb Sauce

Serves 4

roast porkIngredients

4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp kosher salt, divided
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 to 1 1/4 lbs. pork tenderloin, trimmed
1 large sweet onion, sliced
2 to 4 Tbsp water
2 cups diced rhubarb
1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup minced fresh chives


Preheat oven to 450°F. Mix 1 tsp oil, coriander, 1/2 tsp salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the mixture into pork.

Heat 1 tsp oil in a large, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook, turning occasionally, until brown on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast the pork until an instant-read thermometer registers 145°F, 15 to 17 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before slicing.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tsp oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and the remaining 1/2 tsp salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Add 2 Tbsp water; continue cooking, stirring often, until the onion is soft, 5 to 7 minutes more, adding water a tablespoon at a time if necessary to prevent burning.

Stir in rhubarb, vinegar and brown sugar and cook, stirring often, until the rhubarb has broken down, about 5 minutes. Spoon the sauce over the sliced pork and sprinkle with chives

*Add grilled or oven roasted asparagus as a side seasonal vegetable along with baked sweet potato for a complete meal.

Adapted from

Chicken and Asparagus Stir-Fry

Serves 2 to 4

chicken and asparagusIngredients

1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp honey
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 1-inch)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 bunch asparagus, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 scallions, chopped
2 tsp toasted sesame oil

1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
Broccoli and/or any other veggies you wish to add


In a small bowl or in a zipper-seal bag, combine soy sauce and honey. Add chicken and stir to coat. Set in the refrigerator until ready.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add asparagus, and saute until cooked, about 5 minutes. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon, and set aside.

Remove chicken from marinade, and add to skillet. Saute until nearly cooked through (with the insides still slightly pink), about 5 minutes. Then add garlic, scallions, and the reserved marinade to the pan. Saute for an additional 2 minutes until the chicken is cooked and the garlic is fragrant.

Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil (if desired). Serve immediately with brown rice, quinoa or other grain for a well-balanced meal

Adapted from

Massachusetts-Grown Produce

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care and before starting any exercise program, consult your doctor.

Posted March 2014

Contact Information

Nutrition Services
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Rabb B06
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215

Massachusetts-Grown Produce

Produce basketWhen is Massachusetts-grown produce available?
Download a printable seasonal calendar

Where can I buy it?
Find a farmer’s market near you

Seasonal Spring Recipes

Cook up some lighter fare this spring with these seasonal recipes:

Salmon Salad
Roast Pork with Sweet Onion-Rhubarb Sauce
Chicken and Asparagus Stir-Fry