The Nutritional Powerhouses of Homegrown Produce
One of my favorite seasons of the year is spring. Time to gather all the gardening tools, choose which fruits and vegetables to grow, and transplant all the seedlings into planter boxes. I enjoy watching all the plants to see the new shoots pushing through the soil and the seedlings transform into larger plants.
Even though I always look forward to the beginning of my garden, my excitement peaks in the middle of the growing season when the plants begin to produce edible fruits and vegetables. Spinach, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini are just a few items most people grow in
their gardens, myself included. In addition to the fun (and a little hard work) of planting and growing a garden, there are many health benefits from the bountiful produce that results.
Spinach is a leafy green vegetable perfectly packed with phytonutrients. It is high in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which shield your eyes from UV damage. Additionally, spinach contains high amounts of nitrates that your body converts into nitric oxide. The cells in
the lining of your blood vessels produce nitric oxide. It helps to lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease by dilating your blood vessels and regulating blood flow and oxygen delivery. With these health benefits, no wonder Popeye ate his spinach!
A word of caution to those who are more prone to kidney stones or on blood thinners is to limit, or in some cases, avoid spinach. Kidney stones may result from its high calcium and oxalate content. It contains high amounts of calcium and oxalate that can lead to kidney stones. In
addition, spinach also has vitamin K, which can interfere with the commonly known blood thinner, Warfarin.
Green Beans ²
Here’s a fun fact: Green beans are members of the legume family. A legume is any plant that grows its fruit inside a pod. Therefore, all beans are considered legumes. Not all legumes, however, are considered beans. Green beans happen to be one of my favorite vegetables to grow
in my garden. If you’ve never experienced it, the taste of freshly picked green beans is far better than the ones you purchase in the store. Green beans provide a variety of nutrients essential for bone health, including Vitamin K, manganese, Vitamin C, folate, and Vitamin B12. These powerful components all work in different ways to strengthen bones. They aid in producing proteins and connective tissue in both cartilage and bones and stimulate cells that help build your bone while slowing cells that break it down. All these mechanisms work together to strengthen your bones and keep them from breaking.
Tomatoes ³ ⁴
Tomatoes are the foundation of many gardens. They are simple to grow, come in many varieties, and can be used in many ways. Personally, tomatoes are one fruit that I’m still learning to like. However, when it comes to nutrients, they are a nutritional powerhouse!
Lycopene is one of several antioxidants found in tomatoes. Lycopene lowers the risk of heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis while enhancing eye, digestive, and immune system health. Did you know that cooked and processed tomato products like sauce, juice, and paste contain more
lycopene than raw tomatoes? Plus, eating tomato products with healthy fat can boost the amount of lycopene your body can absorb. As a result, by incorporating a combination of cooked and raw tomatoes into your diet, you can maximize the health benefits of this potent fruit!
Peppers ⁵ ⁶
Peppers, whether spicy or not, pack a humungous punch that is hard to beat. Peppers are nutrient dense, meaning they are high in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. They are full of antioxidants; the riper the pepper (red vs. green), the higher the antioxidant content. Beta-
carotene is a chemical found in red bell peppers. Your body converts beta-carotene into Vitamin A, which protects your cells from cancer-causing changes. Lutein is another antioxidant present in higher concentrations in unripe peppers (green) vs. ripe ones and is beneficial for vision and eye health. Quercetin, another potent antioxidant found in all peppers, lowers blood pressure and protects against heart disease and cancer.
Hot Peppers ⁷
Finally, we wouldn’t want to forget about hot peppers. Capsaicin is the compound that gives peppers their fiery and scorching flavor. According to research, spice can be a convenient salt substitute. Not only can spice be used to replace salt, but capsaicin can also make food taste saltier than it actually is. Using spices instead of salt to flavor foods can help you consume less salt overall and lessen your chance of developing high blood pressure.
Spicy Cuisine ⁸
There’s no fear if you dislike spicy cuisine. The more capsaicin you consume, the less sensitive you become to it. As a result, it is possible to develop a tolerance to spicy meals over time and learn to accept and enjoy them!
Zucchini ⁹ ¹⁰
Zucchini, also known as courgette, is a variety of summer squash. It belongs to the same plant family as cucumber, watermelon, and pumpkin. Did you know that, despite popular belief, zucchini is a fruit rather than a vegetable? Vitamins and minerals found in zucchini include
potassium, calcium, magnesium, Vitamin C, and iron. Zucchini can protect the cardiovascular system. Beta-carotene and Vitamin C are two components that aid in preventing the oxidation of cholesterol. Furthermore, the fiber content also helps lower high cholesterol. Because it includes potassium, magnesium, and calcium, zucchini can also help with bone health. These nutrients are linked to better bone mineral density, which may reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis.
Planting a garden every year can be a delightful experience. Gardening not only allows you to be outside and in nature, but it also allows you to learn about the produce that you eat in a new and distinct way. Most importantly, the collection of abundant produce that results can profoundly impact your health and well-being. If you haven’t considered growing your own garden, give it a go and try something new!
¹ Gunnars, K. (2023, February 14). Spinach 101: Nutrition Facts and health benefits. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods/spinach#benefits
² Goldschmidt, V. (2018, November 15). 5 vital bone-building nutrients in this delicious green legume. Save Our Bones. https://saveourbones.com/5-vital-bone-building-nutrients-in-this-delicious-green-legume/
³ Tadimalla, R. T. (2023, July 7). 18 health benefits of tomatoes, how to consume, and recipes. STYLECRAZE. https://www.stylecraze.com/articles/amazing-benefits-of-tomatoes/
⁴ Başaran, N., Bacanlı, M., & Ahmet Başaran, A. (2017). Lycopenes as antioxidants in gastrointestinal diseases. Gastrointestinal Tissue, 355–362. https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-12-805377-5.00028-x
⁵ Red Bell Pepper Health Benefits & Nutrition – Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials. (2023, March 29). https://health.clevelandclinic.org/red-pepper-benefits/
⁶ Sayer, A. (2023, February 22). 5 health benefits of Bell Peppers. Marathon Handbook. https://marathonhandbook.com/health-benefits-of-bell-peppers/
⁷ Greger, M. (2023, June 19). How hot peppers may extend your life. NutritionFacts.org. https://nutritionfacts.org/video/how-hot-peppers-may-extend-your-life/
⁸ Can you be desensitized to spicy food? Cayenne Diane. (2019, November 26). https://www.cayennediane.com/can-you-be-desensitized-to-spicy-food/
⁹ Nagdeve, M. (2021, July 30). 7 health zucchini benefits. Organic Facts. https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/vegetable/health-benefits-of-zucchini.html
¹⁰ Prendergast, C. (2023, May 11). 6 health benefits of Zucchini. Forbes Health. https://www.forbes.com/health/body/zucchini-benefits/²⁵⁹