Gardens for health

Maintaining your own garden can provide you with a bounty of fresh produce and reduce stress.

Imagine your back door leading to a wonderful edible garden, where your inspiration for dinner is right at your fingertips. Feel like a salad? Just pinch off a few leaves and while you are at it, harvest some vine-ripened tomatoes, zucchini and basil for a delicious, healthy side dish. Thanks to soaring food prices and a bounty of health and environmental benefits linked with enjoying local produce, more people are turning their backyard into a kitchen garden. The pleasure of home-grown food will always exceed anything you buy. There is no better time to dig into the earth and sow the seeds for a garden that will give back in so many ways.

According to the National Gardening Association, one in three households is now growing a garden, and community gardens have tripled to 3 million. The more plant foods you fit into your diet, the better you can help to prevent certain cancers. The American Institute for Cancer research reports that vegetables protect against a range of cancers. The phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals they contain can help strengthen your immune system. Phytonutrients in plants protect your body cells from damage that can lead to cancer. In fact, The American Institute of Cancer Research has a delicious salad in a jar recipe.

Eating more fruits and vegetables as part of a nutritious diet can help you maintain a healthy weight. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in calories and fat, yet high in fiber – nature’s formula for weight loss. Not to mention that gardening is wonderful physical exercise that can burn up to 272 calories per hour.

It is a fact that stress can eat away at your health. By getting back to nature and enjoying the touch, look, and smell of soil and plants, you can significantly reduce stress. Scientists discovered that people who interact with plants recover more quickly from everyday stress and mental fatigue.

Best of all, a home garden provides you with the great taste of fruits and vegetables the way nature intended them, luscious and ripe. With so much bounty at your fingertips, you won’t be able to resist the flavor of produce picked at its seasonal best.

For more information about healthy lifestyles, visit Michigan State University Extension’s website