Health benefits of locally grown seasonal foods

Eating seasonally and locally is a great way to maintain a healthy diet, observes a veteran food consultant and Korea’s first accredited vegetable sommelier.
“To me, superfoods are local foods grown in season. They taste better, are cheaper and rich in nutrition,” Kim Eun-kyung, president of the Korea Vegetable Sommelier Association, told The Korea Herald.

The 49-year-old fruit and veggie guru said that fruit and vegetables eaten in season have a higher phytochemical content and contain more nutrients. If consumers buy produce which is not in season, it is likely to have been grown in artificial conditions, or picked prematurely and transported long distances. All these factors not only affect the taste, but also the nutritional content.

“Imagine how an apple tree grows. It starts to bud first, bears fruits and then its root remains in the end. It is a good example of seasonal food. Spring is the time for leafy vegetables, summer for fruit vegetables and winter for root crops,” the food expert said.

She added that seasonal food also provides nutrients that people need during each season.

“For example, spring’s representative food, Korean spring greens, helps to cure spring fever as they are rich in vitamin B-1 and C,” she said.

Kim, the first Korean “meister” to be certified by the Tokyo-based Japan Vegetable & Fruit Meister Association in 2003, said vegetable sommeliers play a role in helping consumers understand the intricacies of selection, storage, preparation and nutritional value of such products.

She said the health benefits of local food have been widely underestimated compared to exotic superfood introduced by foreign food experts.

According to Korea Rural Economic Institute, Korea’s local bean market has faced competition from imported grains such as lentils and Egyptian bean in recent years, resulting in a six-year low fall in prices in 2014.

“People tend to think that superfoods should be exotic and imported from overseas. In fact, there are various kinds of local foods which are packed with an equivalent level of nutrients,” she said.

With 20 years of experience as a food consultant experience, Kim now focuses on discovering new values of veggies and fruits to provide the right information to the public on food and its nutrients to counter the plethora of false information available online.

A recent survey conducted by a Korea research firm Macromillembrain showed that 51.4 percent of Korean consumers still doubt the credibility of information on superfoods while 74.1 percent said they are aware of their health benefits.

“The most important thing is consumers’ comprehensive understanding on food they eat every day. Smart consumers can change the way farmers produce crops and the way retailers select and deliver the goods,” Kim said.

Thanks to the growing number of health-conscious consumers here, some 600 people have taken up the accreditation program in Korea since Kim launched the Korea Vegetable Sommelier Association in 2009.

While the majority of veggie sommelier trainees are housewives, recently more participants are coming from diverse occupational backgrounds, from a supermarket chain staff member to a dermatologist.

“What I emphasize the most during lectures is that you are in fact what you eat,” she said. ‘‘You can either damage or improve your health by your own choice of food. It’s totally up to you.”


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