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Grow your way to health

“In spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”  Margaret Atwood

There's nothing like eating a fresh vegetable from your very own garden. Nurturing a tomato plant in a backyard garden and watching it grow to become food on the table can be very gratifying.  Eating a crisp cucumber or a sweet bell pepper picked the same day not only delights your taste buds, it also nourishes your body like a store bought vegetable never could. If you’ve never planted a garden before, why not consider the many health benefits of growing your own food?

Fruits and vegetables are really nature’s gift to us. A joy to all the senses, from their wonderful smells to their beautiful colours, fruits and vegetables not only look and taste delicious, they are packed with vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants. Beta carotene, the red orange pigment found in fruits and vegetables, is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants protect the body from free radicals which can damage cell structures.

Now here comes the big sell to eat your veggies (hopefully you won’t need it). Think back to high school biology class – remember polysaccharides? A polysaccharide is a category carbohydrates found in plants. Non-starch polysaccharide (NSP) is the source dietary fibre in vegetables, otherwise known as roughage. According to an article published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, NSPs aide a healthy digestive system because dietary fibre increases fecal water content and bulk, accelerating transit time in the intestine and increasing stool frequency.

So what does all this mean for you? A healthier, happier colon! Fibre can help prevent chronic constipation, hemorrhoids, and even cancer. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, eating foods high in dietary fibre can protect against colorectal cancer. As colon cancer risk increases with age, it’s a good idea to up your vegetable intake with fibre packed veggies like peas, brussel sprouts, broccoli and spinach.

And while eating fruits and vegetables from a grocery store is great, eating them ripe from the vine is even better. Fruits and vegetables purchased from a supermarket may have travelled thousands of miles from the farm to the store shelf. In order to make the long trip, produce is often harvested before it has a chance to naturally ripen on the vine. This premature harvesting can compromise the nutritional value. For example, a study from the Journal of Food Science showed that when tomatoes are picked green off the vine, they contain 30% less vitamin C than those allowed to ripen. Ripened tomatoes also contain more beta carotene than those harvested early.

In hustle and bustle of today’s world, it’s unrealistic to expect people will have the time to grow all their own food, not to mention the limitations of our Canadian climate. We are lucky to live in a country where the food-distribution system provides a great selection of food year round. Canada itself is home to roughly 230,000 farms and we also import food from around the world. Bananas from Latin America are the top imported fruit and lettuce from the US along with tomatoes and peppers from Mexico top of the imported vegetable list.

However, incorporating a few homegrown staples into your diet can be quite manageable, even for beginners. And what an appreciation you’ll have for food after eating a vegetable medley you grew yourself! Consider the other bountiful benefits of growing your own food:

  • Taste – Fresh food just tastes better. Bite into a strawberry picked right from the vine and the fresh food argument literally sells itself.
  • Improved health – Vitamin content is highest when eaten right from the vine and people are more likely to eat up to five servings of fruits and vegetables a day when they are homegrown.  Couple that with the time spent outside in the fresh air weeding and watering the fruits of your labour and you’ll be on the path to improved health.
  • Helping others – Murray McNeill is a long-time Victoria Lifeline volunteer and avid gardener. However, he gives away much of what he grows.  Murray donates most of his produce to elderly neighbours as well as his fellow Lifeline volunteers and staff. “I find it very gratifying to give fresh food to people who can’t garden themselves.  My father had a large vegetable garden on a farm and he’d fill up his half ton truck with food and give it away to all our neighbours. I grew up with that tradition.” Murray also dropped off 80 lbs of fresh carrots to Winnipeg Harvest.  “Gardening is what I live for – it gets me outside, keeps me busy and it feels good to help.”

If you’re new to gardening, check out the Manitoba Gardner online for more great gardening tips!

 

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