If you haven’t jumped on the gardening bandwagon yet, it may be time this summer. Having a fruit and vegetable patch in your backyard can provide you with a cornucopia of fresh, delicious produce to complement your medical weight loss diet. What’s more, gardening can be a huge stress reliever and gives you lots of exercise in the form of digging, planting, and weeding. Let’s explore the many benefits of gardening.
The Physical and Psychological Benefits of Gardening
Helps You Stay Fit
Gardening can be strenuous. From tilling the soil to squatting down to pulling up handfuls of weeds, it involves quite a bit of physicality. Not to mention pushing wheelbarrows, swinging an ax, and lifting heavy objects like planters or bags of potting soil. All the calories you’re burning while growing your garden helps build strong muscles. These garden workouts even reduce your risk for obesity-related ailments like heart disease and diabetes.
Keeps You in the Sun
Gardening gives you an excuse to spend time in the sun. Sunlight enables the skin to metabolize vitamin D, which your body needs for brain function and building strong bones. Furthermore, studies have shown that vitamin D can help to lower blood pressure.
Sunlight is also important for fighting depression as it stimulates serotonin production in the brain. Serotonin is the brain chemical that’s believed to contribute to positive moods and lessen anxiety, depression, and stress. And of course, the warmth from the sun can bring you beautiful flowers to liven up your home. When you are out gardening in the sun, just don’t forget your sunscreen!
Breathing in fresh, outdoor air is fundamental to your health. Outdoor air has more oxygen and less pollution than indoor air, even in rooms with good ventilation. It also improves lung health by helping to clean them and encouraging tissue repair. Improved lung function means better circulation. And better circulation can mean more energy and vitality as well as improved mental clarity.
Digging in the dirt brings gardeners into contact with beneficial microbes (aka small organisms that are essential for our survival.) Some of these microbes will help to strengthen the immune system. Others, like Mycobacterium vaccae, can trigger the brain to produce serotonin and may even relieve brain inflammation. This means it could have antidepressant benefits. Soil bacteria can even play a role in boosting the nutritional value of food. But what foods should you be planting in this soil? Let’s get into it.
The Best Nutritious Foods to Grow in Your Garden
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could grow all your own fruits and vegetables and never have to go to the grocery store again? While this may be possible one day, beginner gardeners should first focus on planting foods that promote their weight loss goals. Here’s a quick guide to the best nutrients for growing in your garden and which plants you can get them from:
- Vitamin A: Crucial in maintaining vision, reproduction, and bone growth. You can get Vitamin A in your garden by planting spinach, tomatoes, cantaloupe, carrots, or kale.
- Vitamin B6: This versatile nutrient is involved in protein metabolism, cognitive development, immune function, and the formation of hemoglobin. Potatoes, garbanzo beans, and sunflower seeds are all great, easily grown sources of Vitamin B6.
- Vitamin C: Perhaps best known for its importance to the immune system, Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from free radical damage. Great garden sources of Vitamin C are cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, and sweet peppers.
- Calcium: Used to maintain strong bones and support the structure and solidity of bones and teeth, calcium can be found in vegetables like spinach, broccoli, kale, and turnip greens.
- Vitamin E: Also an antioxidant and immune booster, Vitamin E can be grown in spinach, broccoli, peanuts, and sunflower seeds.
- Folate: This B vitamin helps maintain and produce new cells. Folate can typically be found in green veggies like asparagus, spinach, and green peas.
- Iron: An essential part of many healthy proteins, iron is involved in the body’s transportation of oxygen and the growth and regulation of new cells. For iron, grow things like potatoes, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, or spinach.
- Magnesium: Heavily involved in the body’s biochemical reactions, magnesium helps to maintain the function of muscles, nerves and the immune system regulates heartbeat, and sustains strong bones. Good sources of magnesium include spinach, potatoes, soybeans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and black-eyed peas.
Pulling the Good Weeds
As you may have noticed, many of the vegetables we’ve mentioned are excellent sources of multiple essential nutrients. But not every nutrient needs to be planted in order for you to receive its benefits. In fact, many plants labeled as weeds are just as healthy and delicious as those you buy at the grocery store—you just have to know what to look for. Note that you should always be extra careful when identifying and preparing these foraged ingredients. With that in mind, here are a few that may be sprouting up in a yard near you.
This herb has a rich flavor that can be compared to a cross between celery and mint. It’s an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin K. It also contains a significant amount of iron and calcium. Stinging nettle has been used to promote urinary, adrenal, and kidney health as well as relief from joint pain and seasonal allergies.
This member of the buckwheat family tastes somewhat similar to kale when cooked. Though the stalk and seeds are edible, the young and tender leaves closest to the plant’s center have the best flavor and texture. Dock contains more vitamin A than an equivalent amount of carrot. It also has significantly more protein, potassium, beta carotene, phosphorus, calcium, iron, and vitamin C than spinach.
Chickweed can be identified by its oval or elliptic leaves, which come to a point at the tip. They grow low to the ground and produce tiny white flowers with five-lobed petals. A good source of fiber and protein, chickweed also contains vitamin A, potassium, iron, selenium, manganese, zinc, vitamin C, and several different B vitamins.
Grow Your Garden, Improve Your Health
An obvious benefit to gardening is having access to vegetables when they’re at their freshest and most nutritious state. But that’s not the only amazing thing about the gardening lifestyle. It also sneaks more exercise into your life, encourages you to spend more time soaking up the sunshine, breathing in the fresh air, and exposing yourself to healthy bacteria from the soil. Even the weeds that grow in your garden can be a blessing. So find a small garden space in your backyard, pick out a few healthy plants from the nursery, and start watching your garden grow!