Grow your way to health

“In spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” Margaret Atwood

The promise of spring is an excellent time to contemplate the gardens of summer. If you’ve ever thought about planting your own fruits and vegetables, consider the many health benefits of growing your own food. Nurturing a tomato plant in a backyard garden and watching it grow to become food on the table can be very gratifying.  Eating a crisp cucumber or a sweet bell pepper picked the same day not only delights your taste buds, it also nourishes your body like a store bought vegetable never could.

Fruits and vegetables are really nature’s gift to us. A joy to all the senses, from their wonderful smells to their beautiful colours, fruits and vegetables not only look and taste delicious, they are packed with vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants. Beta carotene, the red orange pigment found in fruits and vegetables, is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants protect the body from free radicals which can damage cell structures.

Now here comes the big sell to eat your veggies (hopefully you won’t need it). Think back to high school biology class – remember polysaccharides? A polysaccharide is a category carbohydrates found in plants. Non-starch polysaccharide (NSP) is the source dietary fibre in vegetables, otherwise known as roughage. According to an article published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, NSPs aide a healthy digestive system because dietary fibre increases fecal water content and bulk, accelerating transit time in the intestine and increasing stool frequency.

So what does all this mean for you? A healthier, happier colon! Fibre can help prevent chronic constipation, hemorrhoids, and even cancer. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, eating foods high in dietary fibre can protect against colorectal cancer. As colon cancer risk increases with age, it’s a good idea to up your vegetable intake with fibre packed veggies like peas, brussels sprouts, broccoli and spinach.

In hustle and bustle of today’s world, it’s unrealistic to expect people will have the time to grow all their own food, not to mention the limitations of our Canadian climate. We are lucky to live in a country where the food-distribution system provides a great selection of food year round. Canada itself is home to roughly 230,000 farms and we also import food from around the world. However, incorporating a few homegrown staples into your diet can be quite manageable, even for beginners. And what an appreciation you’ll have for food after eating a vegetable medley you grew yourself! Consider the other bountiful benefits of growing your own food:

  • Taste – Fresh food just tastes better. Bite into a strawberry picked right from the vine and the fresh food argument literally sells itself.
  • Improved health – Vitamin content is highest when eaten right from the vine and people are more likely to eat up to five servings of fruits and vegetables a day when they are homegrown.  Couple that with the time spent outside in the fresh air weeding and watering the fruits of your labour and you’ll be on the path to improved health.
  • Helping others – Murray McNeill is a long-time Victoria Lifeline volunteer and avid gardener. However, he gives away much of what he grows.  Murray donates most of his produce to elderly neighbours as well as his fellow Lifeline volunteers and staff. “I find it very gratifying to give fresh food to people who can’t garden themselves.  My father had a large vegetable garden on a farm and he’d fill up his half ton truck with food and give it away to all our neighbours. I grew up with that tradition.” Murray also dropped off 80 lbs of fresh carrots to Winnipeg Harvest.  “Gardening is what I live for – it gets me outside, keeps me busy and it feels good to help.”

If you’re new to gardening, check out this great article on how to start your own garden. If you don’t have access to a yard, there are Community gardens throughout the city. Visit the City of Winnipeg’s website to find out more.

Krystal Stokes is the Director of Marketing & Development for Victoria Lifeline, a community service of the Vic Foundation.

Learning to live healthy has never been so easy!
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