For better nutrition, tend a garden plot
07/12/2011

By KELLY BOTHUM

 

Summer is a season of tastes, whether it’s the simple pleasure of a tomato sandwich with the star ingredient plucked right from the vine or a cobbler brimming with handfuls of just-picked blueberries.

 

For those who grow their own vegetables and fruits, nature’s bounty is a gift that keeps on giving. But while summer is considered the prime growing season for local produce, it’s not the only time.

 

Homegrown goodies can be coaxed out of the ground three seasons out of the year, depending on planting time and technique, said Gordon Johnson, a vegetable and fruit specialist with the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. Options abound for getting more veggies into your diet when there are tomatoes, green beans and peppers in the summer, mustard and collard greens in the fall and peas and asparagus in the spring. More ambitious gardeners who use protective coverings over their crops can harvest broccoli and other hardy vegetables despite wintry temperatures.

 

“Depending on the winter, you can be harvesting up through January,” Johnson said. “You may have two months where you have to depend on stored vegetables.”

 

The push for more green thumbs is about more than just playing in the dirt. The food choices we make — good and bad — can affect our cholesterol, blood pressure and, of course, weight, said Tracey Sinibaldi, a registered dietitian and owner of TKS Nutrition in Middletown.

 

Decades of studies point to the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, with much of the recent research suggesting that people who eat more servings have a lower risk of heart disease. It’s also believed that some types of fruits and vegetables, particularly the green, leafy varieties, may offer protection against certain cancers, including stomach, prostate and esophagus. The mechanics of how they do so are still being studied, but scientists believe the phytochemicals and antioxidants found in plant-based foods repair cellular damage and help get rid of cancer-forming compounds.