How to eat for the season: spring

Your body tells you what it needs during each phase of the year. Here's how to listen.

Why do we crave light, fresh salads in Springtime, refreshing fruits and high-energy carbs in Summer, and heartier, fattier fare in the Fall and Winter? There are greater things at work than the whims of appetite. In this series, we’ll look at the benefits of eating for each season.

Beyond the obvious benefits of eating what’s local and available, there are important reasons to eat in season. Nature works in ways both miraculous and simplistic: If you listen to what your body naturally wants at this time of year, it’s invariably in sync with what’s coming up from the earth.

“From an anthropological standpoint, our bodies naturally want to shed the extra layer of weight we can carry from winter. The types of foods that we find ourselves drawn to now—bright, crisp vegetables that sprout from the ground, foods that symbolize rebirth and growth—help us achieve this and fulfill our nutrient needs at the same time,” says chef Marissa Lippert, MS, RD, founder of Nourish Kitchen + Table.

These foodie leanings are both intuitive and supported by a 5,000-year-old tradition. In Ayurveda, basing your diet on a spring, summer, fall, winter rotation and relying on the foods harvested during each season is believed to help keep the body in balance. “I don’t know of any Western research on the subject, but the nutritional principles of Ayurvedic medicine advise eating with a seasonal rhythm and spring is the cleansing time,” says functional medicine specialist Dr. Susan Blum, MD, MPH, founder of the Blum Center for Health and author of The Immune System Recovery Plan.

The harvest now: Antioxidant-rich leafy greens and vegetables that are low in sugar. “During the long, cold winter we eat more protein and fat and our bodies retain fat and mucous to combat the cold,” says Blum. The effort can also deplete our antioxidant stores, which are needed to support the liver during cleansing. “Moving to a high vegetable-based diet that’s lower in fat, starch and fruit will allow the natural cleansing action of the greens to reduce body fat and mucus as the antioxidants help the liver to do its work,” she says.

The recommend: Start chopping. Fresh salads are right in line with the time. Think of each one as aiding in the spring cleaning of your digestive system. “We just created a wheatberry salad with lemon zest, chives and snap peas and it just screams spring. The citrus zest is zingy and zippy and the crunch and crispness of the snap peas is like that awakening of the senses that comes with the season,” says Lippert, who suggests applying that logic to your salad bowl.

Her tips should put a bit more spring in your step:

1. Make a seasonal salada day with lettuces like romaine, bib, butter, mesclun, mâche and frisée and spring veggies like onion, carrots, snap peas, ramps, pea tendrils, garlic, asparagus, fennel and radish.

2. Add flavor with herbslike chives, tarragon, scallions, mint and dill and bright, lemony notes with spices like sumac and nigella seeds.

3. Blend up a springtime pesto with arugula, mint, lemon zest, walnuts and parmesan and use it in salads, on steamed veggies and with lean proteins.