How many plants did you eat yesterday? Consider fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. These plant foods are the food groups most Americans do not get enough of. Less than 25% of American adults eat the recommended minimum of two cups of vegetables per day.
Sometimes food gets complicated with allergies, intolerance and disease, but more often than not we make nutrition more convoluted than it needs to be. The evidence supporting eating a diet rich in plant foods is overwhelming. We could all benefit from grounded, plant-based nutrition.
Getting Access to Great Plants
As the weather warms up, our options for great produce multiply. Aside from gleaning in-season produce at the supermarket, you may consider a few other options:
Off-the-vine produce gives you maximum nutrition and flavor because you pick food when it is ripe and eat it fresh.
Gardening is a great alternative to getting a pet to teach your kids responsibility. They take ownership of their plot and plants, eat better because they are invested, and you don’t have to wake up in the night to tend to the whimpering garden like you would a puppy. It’s a win-win!
Garden produce not only provides lots of health-promoting vitamins, minerals, fiber, water, and phytochemicals, but also some much needed vitamin D (sunshine) and outdoor therapy. At our latitude we do not get many months of good vitamin D gleaning, so take advantage of good weather to stock up!
Gardening can yield cost savings in your food bill and also your medical bill. A garden is a great way to invest in your health. People who eat more plant-based foods have reduced incidence of chronic disease and have smaller waistlines. Plants are full of water and fiber, and usually low in calories. The exercise you do gardening and the nutrition you receive by eating garden produce can also help you manage your weight.
The idea of planting a garden and reaping the rewards always sounds fantastic in the spring when the air is cool and we’re tired of being cooped up in the house. It’s when July rolls around with its blaring summer sun that our resolve is truly tested. For this reason, it’s best to start with a small and manageable garden in order to avoid regret, lost money, and wasted time.
Before beginning answer these questions honestly:
Small Ideas that Reap Big Rewards
The smallest gardens can pack a big flavor and health punch; try planting a few fresh herbs this year. Fresh herbs are loaded with antioxidants—immune system supporting and chronic disease preventing bioactive chemicals. You can keep them in your window sill to grow so you remember to care for them and use them.
You don’t always need a big patch of dirt to plant a garden. As long as you have access to sun, water, and good soil you can enjoy home-grown produce from a pot. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, squash, strawberries, and other plants grow well in containers.
If you’re ready to take the leap into a bigger project, or are already a seasoned gardener, kudos! Reach out and teach someone near you how they can be successful gardeners and plant-based eaters too. A culture of support can help us all thrive, both socially and physically.
Erica Hansen is a registered dietitian who owns the nutrition consulting company, Foods That Fit. She specializes in working with individuals and organizations to make their health and lifestyle goals fit into real life. She believes that getting back to the basics—preparing good, wholesome foods at home—is the first step to improving health.