Make Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs Your Partner in Health
by Dr. Thomas K. Lo, Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center
I just love how delicious and nutritious fresh vegetables from the garden are. Some of my favorites are vine-ripened tomatoes, just-harvested peaches and corn, also fresh herbs and spices.
Growing your own edible plants—whether in a backyard garden or a few pots on your windowsill—can be fun, rewarding, and healthful. You can even share your garden’s bounty with friends and neighbors.
“Gardening has many health benefits. It allows you to get outside, get active, and sit less, which might help to reduce stress,” says Dr. Philip Smith, a life-long gardener who oversees obesity research at NIH. “Gardening can also help to improve your diet if you eat more fruits and vegetables. They have a more intense flavor when ripe and freshly picked.”
The benefits of fruits and vegetables are that they are full of fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. Research has shown that eating fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet can reduce your risk for long-term diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer. The fiber in fruits and vegetables can help relieve constipation and normalize your bowel movements.
Fruits and vegetables may also help reduce your calorie intake—especially if they are replacing high-calorie, processed foods—to help you control your weight. Adding herbs and spices to your food gives it rich and interesting flavors without adding calories.
Gardening and growing herbs and spices can enhance your mental health as well. Studies have found that being physically active in natural environments—or even simple exposure to nature—can improve mood, reduce anxiety, and enhance self-esteem.
“Growing your own vegetables and digging into the dirt can increase physical activity and give one a feeling of well-being and a sense of connection to the Earth,” Smith says.
Children can also benefit from growing and caring for edible plants. Studies have found that kids involved with gardening programs tend to make healthier food choices, eat more fruits and vegetables, and have improved social skills.
“Gardening can help little children learn about growing and caring for things. They may find that they enjoy eating the fruits and vegetables they have grown themselves. And they may like eating the foods they know are good for them,” Smith says. “Adults, too, find they appreciate the many delicious tastes of fruits and vegetables that come fresh from the garden.”
Cancer survivors who took up gardening in a small NIH-funded study tended to have increased physical activity and vegetable intake, along with improved strength and endurance.
Another recently launched NIH study is looking at whether American Indian families who engage in community gardening will boost their fruit and vegetable intake and reduce their body weight.
“The researchers are also looking at whether gardening can lower blood pressure, increase hand strength, and lead to better mental and physical health,” says NIH’s Dr. Charlotte Pratt, who oversees research on nutrition, physical activity, and heart health.
“Americans generally don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables; it’s one of the major drawbacks of our diets today,” Pratt said.
The federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults who eat about 2,000 calories daily should eat about two-and-a-half cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit a day. However, only a small percentage of adults and children meet both fruit and vegetable recommendations.
When you choose your vegetables, try to eat an assortment of colors and types every day. Broccoli, spinach, collard greens, kale, and other dark leafy greens are good choices. Also, choose red and orange vegetables, such as tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, or red/orange peppers. Other great choices are eggplant and summer/ winter squash. Many of these are easy to grow at home.
“These are all good sources of vitamins, in general, including vitamins A and C, and they tend to be good sources of fiber as well,” Pratt says. “Some vegetables can also provide minerals, like potassium, iron, and calcium.”
The many nutrients in fruits and vegetables are essential to good health. If you are taking medications, though, ask your doctor if there are certain fruits and vegetables you should avoid because some plant-based products can interfere with how certain medicines work. For instance, grapefruit can interact with certain drugs, including some cholesterol, blood pressure, and allergy prescription medications.
“For people who take medications to prevent blood clots, problems might arise from eating dark green vegetables, which are rich in vitamin K,” Pratt said. Vitamin K helps to promote blood clotting, but blood thinners have the opposite effect. Foods rich in vitamin K include kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and some types of lettuce.
“Herbs and spices have long been used to flavor foods. And they’ve been used since ancient times for medicinal purposes as well,” said Dr. Craig Hopp, an expert in herbal products research at NIH.
When you grow herbs in your garden or in windowsill containers, you can easily add them to your meals and create a great taste. Plus, you can freeze or dry your herbs to have them all year round. You can also grow them all year round inside in colder climates.
If you think that you do not have space for a backyard garden, think again.
“Some vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, potatoes, kale, and peppers don’t require much space,” stated Smith. These vegetables can easily be grown in pots or small gardens. “You can also try growing hanger tomatoes, which can be suspended from your deck or porch.”
Wherever you get your fresh fruit and vegetables, whether from your own back yard, a farmer’s market, or a store, make sure you and your family eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day.
Think it is too cold outside to get fruits and vegetables? If industrious, you can freeze or can a lot of them that you grow or purchase when in season. You can also purchase frozen vegetables and fruits from the frozen section at the store where you shop.
Take the colder months to plan a garden, whether it is a small plot in your backyard or in containers, and decide what you would like to start growing in the spring. Also, do not forget about the herbs and spices you can grow all year inside your home.
If you are struggling with health issues, call the Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center at 240-651-1650 for a free consultation. Dr. Lo uses Nutritional Response Testing® to analyze the body to determine the underlying causes of ill or non-optimum health. The office is located at 7310 Grove Road #107 in Frederick. Check out the website at www.doctorlo.com.