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Garden Planning for Nutrition

Trying to eat healthy? Start with your garden plan.

People grow their own vegetables for a variety of reasons. Some prefer to raise their produce organically, believing it to be safer and healthier. Others relish the idea of bringing forth nature’s bounty by the sweat of their brow, or maybe gardening is just the best way to impress the neighbors or stay out of trouble. Few will dispute that home food production is replete with challenges, but the rewards of home-grown vegetables are numerous.

In my opinion, the best reason for growing your own produce is for the nutrition. When broccoli is shipped long distances such as California to Michigan, the vitamin C content will decrease by more than 50 percent. Consuming the broccoli harvested fresh from the backyard garden will contain its full nutritional value and if you are interested, the fuel needed to ship that broccoli to you could be saved if enough people grow their own.

What you choose to grow and eat also has an impact on your overall nutritional status. When most people start their garden, they plan to grow what they like to eat. If space is limited, that approach makes perfect sense. This year as you put together a plan, consider adding vegetables that are high in vitamin and mineral content. Did you know that a half cup of mashed sweet potatoes provide 1,000 percent of the daily value (DV) of vitamin A? This vegetable is seldom seen in Michigan gardens, although it will grow well in southern Michigan gardens.      

Everybody talks about drinking your orange juice for vitamin C. One cup of fresh orange juice provides 207 percent DV of vitamin C and 112 calories, but 1 cup of fresh red bell pepper provides 317 percent DV of vitamin C with only 46 calories. Broccoli is also a good choice with 168 percent and only 54 calories.

After comparing 50 vegetables, the highest level of vitamin E is found in Rhubarb. For vitamin K, the winner is Kale. If you are looking for the best vegetable source for folate, try growing Edamame soybeans, while spinach has the highest level of iron. Few vegetables have high levels of vitamins and minerals, so it is important to eat a mixture. If you are interested in looking at how your favorite vegetables measure up nutritionally, visit the Self Nutrition Data website.

Finally, there are other factors that can have an effect on the nutritional content of your food. They include the varieties selected to grow, soil fertility status, when the produce is picked, and how it is prepared, processed or stored.

For more information on a wide variety of smart gardening articles, or to find out about smart gardening classes and events, visit www.migarden.msu.edu. You can also visit Michigan State University Extension at the West Michigan Home and Garden Show on Feb. 28-March 3.

(Article written by Gary Heilig, Michigan State University Extension)

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