It’s a fact that the sugar in sweet corn and green peas starts to turn to starch as soon as they’re picked. By the time you buy them, they’ve lost much of their sweetness, not to mention nutritional value. It’s a fact, too, that many nutrient-dense foods lose much of their goodness in a short time and these inferior foods are sold to the public. And urban and suburban parents feed this inferior produce to their families because they have no access to really fresh fruit and vegetables.
Little wonder, then, that canny home gardeners choose to grow the more nutrient-dense foods in the limited space of their yards. Fresh from the garden, these vegetables and fruit give the family the full benefit of their health-promoting properties.
Nutrient-dense foods are what we consider healthy foods, being high in nutrients and low in calories. According to NIH Senior Health: “Nutrient-dense foods are foods that have a lot of nutrients but relatively few calories. Look for foods that contain vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats.”
So, what’s best to grow? As it happens, the most nutritious foods are usually some of the most expensive, at least in part because of their perishable nature. From the fruit and vegetables, your family most enjoys, select those that grow in your region. Then list the ones that cost the most to buy and any that spoil quickly. Lettuces are cheap in season, for example, and they store well so you might want to grow only a few special varieties.
Below is a list of some nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits that you might try growing. If potatoes and sweet potatoes require quite more space than you can spare, try growing them in containers or leave them out altogether.
Some Nutrient-Dense Foods To Grow
Green or dried, beans are nutrient-dense foods. They are low in sugar, high in protein and an excellent source of dietary fibre. You can even use dried beans as a substitute for meat. Recent research shows that black beans, in particular, have a mix of nutrients that are especially beneficial to the digestive tract.
Green beans are also high in fibre and are a source of necessary vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They are easy to grow and can be planted in spring or summer. You can have dwarf beans all summer and autumn by planting successive crops.
You can plant beans as either seeds or seedlings once frosts have finished. If slugs or snails are a problem in your garden you will need to protect your young beans – the pests will eat the whole plant down to the stem.
A member of the brassica (cabbage) family that is becoming popular because of its high food value is kale, sometimes known as Borecole. It is rich in oxidants, magnesium, potassium and vitamins A, B, C and K. Studies show that kale fights cancer and inflammation and lowers cholesterol.
Kale is a cool weather vegetable, planted in late summer for autumn, winter and spring use. Its flavour improves after frosts.
Other members of the brassica family, such as cauliflower, cabbage or broccoli, they are highly nutritious too. They are excellent choices for the home garden but require more space.
Potatoes contain many of our essential nutrients, so much so that people have been able to live with them as their staple food. They contain complex carbohydrates, vitamins C and B and a list of minerals.
Modern urban and suburban gardens may not have sufficient space to grow a large crop of potatoes but they grow readily in containers. These will provide a few meals of varieties not sold in the supermarket. Or they could provide new potatoes when bulk potatoes are losing their flavour and texture. Try growing one of the purple coloured varieties. They are rich in an antioxidant called anthocyanin.
See Links for guides to growing potatoes.
Sweet potatoes are not related to potatoes (Solanum tuberosum): they are the swollen roots of (Ipomoea batatas), a perennial vine. They are nutrient rich, with a range of minerals, complex carbohydrate and vitamins A and C. Although they taste sweet they have a low glycemic index.
Not sure how to grow sweet potatoes? Rodale’s Organic Life will help you. Just click on the link
Most of the well-known berries do not require a large growing area and are suitable for growing in the home garden if your climate permits. Not only do they taste delicious but they are healthy additions to the diet as well.
Strawberries are small plants requiring little space. They can be grown in garden beds and are favourites for ornamental growing in hangers and pots. The fruit needs to be held above the ground and straw is often used to do this. If it covers the fruit lightly the straw will also protect it from birds.
Gooseberries are easily trained as bushes; otherwise, they can be grown against a trellis or fence. Gooseberries are not often listed as a desirable, nutritious fruit but they have significantly high amounts of phenolic phytochemicals. These compounds help to protect against cancer, ageing, inflammation and neurological diseases. Gooseberries also provide a useful supply of vitamins and minerals.
Raspberries, boysenberries and blackberries need support. Wires strung between posts, trellises or fences will provide this. They should be spread out in full sun. Like other berries, they have significant amounts of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Since they are best eaten when freshly picked they are good choices for the home garden.
Blueberries can be grown as bushes and some people grow them as ornamental hedges. They are attractive, evergreen bushes so are not out of place in a shrubbery, or anywhere else you might grow a two-metre shrub. Blueberries are more highly nutritious than the other berries mentioned, being high in antioxidants. They also have worthwhile quantities of vitamins and minerals.
Blackcurrants are rich in anthocyanin, Vitamin C and a number of other nutrients that can protect against a variety of illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, joint inflammation and urinary infections. The two metre upright bushes are easy to grow.
There are other nutrient-dense foods that could have been included such as grapes, leafy greens and garlic. These are all worthy of a place in the organic home garden. By growing all the food that you can you not only save money but benefit from the freshness of produce to which no toxic spray has been applied.
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