It’s true, all vegetables have health benefits. However some are over-achievers in the nutrient department and many of those are ridiculously easy to grow. Since vegetables start losing nutrients as soon as they are picked, having a garden in your backyard or on your deck is a great step toward improving the quality of food on your table. So if you’re looking for ways to get some fresh air and sunshine as well as an excuse to eat healthier, start planning a vegetable garden with these 6 vegetables and let the meal planning begin.
You didn’t think carrots were a mere sweet treat, did you? It’s the beta-carotene in carrots that gives them their orange color. Once absorbed into your system, this antioxidant can be turned into vitamin A, which is essential for healthy vision, as well as other antioxidants that have been shown to reduce your risk of certain cancers. Carrots are also a source of other vitamins, minerals and even fiber.
There’s a huge variety of carrots to grow. You can succession plant short rows of carrots for a longer season of harvest, grow some of the longer varieties that can be stored and used all winter or try some of the fast-growing, “baby” varieties that can easily be grown in containers.
Heat and Health with Chili Peppers
Hot peppers can be an acquired taste, but they are sneaking into more and more recipes these days. That’s a good thing for many reasons. It’s the capsaicin in chilies that gives them their punch. Although studies are still inconclusive, capsaicin appears to have multiple benefits, including being analgesic, anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic and may even lower LDL cholesterol levels. Plus they are rich in vitamin C, as well as containing other vitamins and minerals.
Sweet peppers can be a little tricky to grow. They need a long, warm season and time to mature. Hot peppers tend to be smaller fruits and they grow in plentiful bunches on smaller plants. Give them some heat and they’ll start setting fruits. They are tropical perennials, so if you want them year round, you can even bring your plants indoors.
Super Foods – Kale and Other Cooking Greens
Kale has gotten more than its share of publicity recently, as a terrific health food. It’s high in fiber, vitamins and minerals and has properties that are touted for everything from inhibiting cancer to protecting the heart and lungs. Personally, I prefer to eat my kale rather than drink it, but there’s no denying it is a versatile vegetable.
If you’re sold on the benefits and flavor of kale, think about expanding your cooking green repertoire to include, amaranth and collards.
One of the pleasures of growing your own kale is that it can handle some frigid weather. You can plant an early crop to enjoy during the summer and start some plants for a harvest that will carry you through the fall and into winter. Since you only harvest a few outer leaves at a time, you won’t even need that many plants.
Scallions for More than Spice
The edible alliums, like onions and garlic, possess a host of healthy benefits, but can be difficult to grow in some areas. Although not as concentrated, scallions antioxidant benefits are still worth a spot on this list. They are good sources of vitamins A, C, K, and folate. Because you are eating the leafy green portion, you are also getting a good dose of fiber.
Scallions are quick and easy to grow.
If you’ve ever battled wild onions in your lawn, you know how persistent alliums can be. You can even replant the bottoms of store bought scallions for a free harvest. Or simply purchase a packet of seeds and succession plant them throughout the summer, to spice up any meal.
Spinach Packs a Wallop of Flavor and Health
Spinach won’t give you sailor-man strength, but it is packed with goodness. Fresh or cooked, it’s a top notch source of vitamins A, C, K, ( which is important for building strong bones), and folate and it holds its own with assorted other vitamins and minerals, including calcium and iron, making it great for It also has substantial antioxidant properties.
Spinach requires cooler weather and will quickly bolt to seed when the temperatures heat up.
However it can be planted very early in the season and replanted in late summer for a fall crop. You can also succession plant it, to extend the harvest even further. It doesn’t need a lot of sun and giving it a partially shaded spot in the garden can forestall the inevitable bolting.
Growing Nutrient Packed Tomatoes
We never really needed extra incentive to eat more tomatoes and tomato sauce, but recent studies touting the benefits of lycopene, a carotenoid related to vitamin A and beta-carotene, have elevated tomatoes to health food status. They are being studied for their ability to reduce risks of some cancers, including prostate cancer, as well as cholesterol levels. To reap these benefits you need to eat your tomatoes cooked, since lycopene levels are more concentrated in sauce than is fresh tomatoes.
Oh, and then there’s the alphabet of vitamins and minerals provided by tomatoes.
Growing tomatoes is a fairly easy task, provided the weather cooperates and the pests and diseases stay at bay long enough to get to harvest. That never dissuade anyone from trying. If you are new to growing tomatoes, I’d suggest trying some cherry tomato plants in containers. You can control the soil and water much better in containers and cherry tomatoes seem to have fewer problems. Plus, you can keep them close at hand, for snacking.
All vegetables have wonderful benefits to recommend them, but the 6 mentioned here are not just delicious, they are also easy to grow in any garden. And the experts are breeding even more uber-nutritious vegetable varieties, like orange cucumbers and cauliflower that both contain beta-carotene, but even if orange florets don’t appeal to you, there are plenty of other choices.
Any vegetable that’s eaten fresh will contain more nutrients than one that’s been sitting in the back of a truck and declining further on the produce aisle. So grab your seed catalogs and start planning a vegetable garden to keep you healthy.