Gardening Can Keep You and Your Family Healthy!

By Joanne DeMarchi, MA, RD, IBCLC, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Backyards can be transformed into fruit and vegetable gardens in a few simple steps.  This is a great family activity that has long lasting results.  The food you grow in your backyard is nearly free, fresher than anything you buy at the farmers market and can be perpetual.  Since April is National Gardening month it is the perfect time to start planting!

First, find a place in your yard that gets good sun.  If there is only a small part of the yard that does, buy pots and plant into containers.  Next, decide what you want to plant.  Perhaps choose 2-3 vegetables and 1-2 fruits. One tradition to start is every Mother’s Day plant a fruit tree or other edible plant.  Over time it is wonderful to watch them grow and go into the yard when you need fresh berries, salad greens, a lemon or to pick a fresh orange!

Next, soil counts.  The healthier your soil the healthier and larger your produce yield.  Many gardens in southern California need nutrients added to their soil.  Best advice is to go to your local garden center and ask for expert help.  Another great way to improve your soil and the environment is starting a compost pile.  Compost adds healthy organic nutrients to your garden soil. To start a compost pile, watch this short video from the Sierra Club

Eating more fruits and vegetables (from your garden or in general) is one of the recommendations from the American Institute for Cancer Research.  In laboratory studies, many individual minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals demonstrate anti-cancer effects.  Yet evidence suggests it is the synergy of compounds working together in the overall diet that offers the strongest cancer protection.  Therefore, choosing fruits and vegetables rather than supplements is recommended.  These bright, healthy, colorful foods contain phytochemicals and antioxidants, such as vitamin C, Vitamin E, beta-carotene and folic acid.  

When planning meals, aim to fill at least 2/3 of your plate with vegetables, fruit, whole grains and beans.  When fruit and vegetable intake goes up and replaces higher calorie, less nutrient dense foods, body weight improves.  Increased body fat increases the risk of seven cancers; esophagus, pancreas, colon and rectum, endometrium, kidney, postmenopausal breast and gallbladder.

If starting a backyard garden is too big of a plan, consider growing an herb garden.  No meal is complete without fresh herbs.  Most garden centers have herbs in small pots and finding a sunny window is all that is required.  Growing basil for your tomato and mozzarella salad or rosemary to sprinkle on fish and roasted sweet potatoes turns ordinary into extraordinary and you get all the credit!

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