During this festive season, it’s very hard to resist overdoing it on the vast array of treats and food choices out there. On an everyday basis, however, eating nutritious foods is one of the best ways to stay healthy and live a better quality of life. Today, there is a growing realization among all demographics of the nutritional values of fruits and vegetables and the significant health benefits associated with them.
Food gardening has sky rocketed in popularity mainly because folks want a little more control over the food they eat. They want to enjoy fruits and vegetables without harmful pesticide residues and to savour greater levels of flavour that can be achieved only by harvesting fresh produce.
Since food gardening has found a niche in today’s lifestyles, it seems logical to focus not only on the vegetables and fruits we love but also on the ones that have the greatest benefits. When we choose what vegetables to grow, we most often look to flavour, production and pest resistance. Today, I think we also need to consider each variety’s nutritional, vitamin and antioxidant qualities.
Leeks are great for flavouring many dishes, but in addition to flavour, the ‘Kilima’ leek contains vitamin C, B-complex, potassium, magnesium and in particular, silica, iron and calcium. If you enjoy leeks, it makes sense to grow this variety as it has the highest nutritional value.
Although onions are not one of the top ten most popular vegetables, according to Burpee Seeds, they are right up there for flavouring salads, soups and meats. Even though ‘Walla Walla’ onions are the favourite choice of many people, the variety ‘Candy’ is the most valuable because of its ability to fight bacteria and reduce blood pressure, harmful cholesterol and blood sugars.
Peppers, both sweet and hot, are healthful in a number of ways, but the hottie, ‘Mucho Nacho’, is high in vitamin C, phenolic acids and plant sterols, and it has lots of carotene. Both sweet peppers, ‘Red Beauty’ and ‘Blushing Beauty’, are chock full of vitamin C, and believe it or not, when mature, have more vitamin C than oranges, ounce for ounce.
Tomatoes are the most popular garden fruit, but did you know that they contain cancer fighting lycopene? The variety ‘Health Kick’ has 50% more lycopene than other standard varieties. Lycopene is a very strong antioxidant and free radical neutralizer. Research has shown that men who consumed a minimum of ten servings of high lycopene-enriched tomatoes a week, could reduce their risk of prostate cancer by 45%. Very few foods contain lycopene. Watermelon, apricots, pink grapefruit and guava have varying amounts but tomatoes are, perhaps, the easiest to obtain and least expensive.
Leafy vegetables, particularly the darker green varieties, like spinach and kale, contain high levels of lutein and zeathanthin, two carotenoids that are very helpful in protecting eyes, arteries and lungs from those nasty free radicals. Advanced Nutraceutical Research Inc. has found that folks consuming lutein every day have a 43% less chance of macular degeneration. About 2-5 servings a day of leafy vegetables or other fruits and vegetables will provide adequate amounts.
We often hear of the value of garlic, and garlic researcher, Dr. Eric Bloch, suggests that regular consumption of garlic lowers the incidence of stomach cancer and reduces the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Dr. Yu-Yan Yeh indicates that regular use of garlic results in lower cholesterol. Historically, garlic was used in treating infections because of its anti-microbial agent called allicin.
George Bush Sr.’s comment, “I’m the President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat anymore broccoli” made headlines, but George should reconsider because broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale and cabbage are all loaded with both sulforaphane and indoles, which are noted cancer fighting phytochemicals. Indoles have an ability to activate detoxifying enzymes and bind them to chemical carcinogens in the intestinal tract and neutralize their effect.
As we look to improve our lifestyles and eating habits, it’s great to know our gardens can be one of our most important resources. All the plant foods I’ve discussed simply need to be grown, harvested and enjoyed in the normal course of meal preparations. Over winter, as you await the arrival of spring and a new opportunity to grow these wonderful foods, do a little research so that you know which fruit and vegetable varieties will provide you with the greatest health benefits.