Good's nutrition columnist Ben Warren from BePure shares his advice on why veggie gardens are so good for us
In the western world we are essentially “overfed but undernourished”, meaning it’s incredibly easy to get the basic calories our bodies need for energy production, but very difficult to get the nutrients (vitamins and minerals) our bodies need for health.
Minerals and vitamins are key to our health and involved in just about everything including hormone production, immunity, growth and repair. Our metabolic pathways are dependent on them acting as coenzymes for the enzymes involved in extracting energy from our diet. How do we get as many minerals and vitamins as possible? Enter the humble vegetable garden!
Not only has our diet changed in the last 100 years, but our agricultural systems have too. I became aware of this when doing my Master’s degree in nutrition. When I studied which nutrients people gained from their diets, I learned that many of today’s fruits and vegetables may not be as nutrient-rich as they would have been previously.
There are many reasons for this:
· Modern farming methods The land is intensively farmed year after year, leading to mineral-depleted soils (trace minerals are essential to our health).
· Nitrogen use Using excessive nitrogen can reduce plant root structure by up to 90 per cent, meaning the roots cannot access the trace minerals in the soil.
· Year-round supply of fruit and vegetables We are not eating foods as fresh as we used to. Fruits and vegetables lose much of their water-soluble vitamins (B vitamins and vitamin C) as they get older. Often we are eating foods that have been picked months earlier, cold stored and transported around the world.
This made me realise I couldn’t buy the kind of food I wanted to eat, so I thought, “I’ve got to live on a farm.” The concept of the BePure farm was born. My family and I have lived here for nearly nine years – a 15-acre, permaculture-designed, organic farm where we grow 80 per cent of the food we eat. I spent four years and $10,000 on soil testing and re-mineralising the farm’s soils. We tested the nutrient density of the produce and found we were growing produce with, on average, five times more nutrients than you could buy in the supermarket.
Now, you may not live on a farm. But you can still get many of the benefits of growing your own food through having your own vegetable garden. Even if you do very little to the soil, by just planting the seedlings, watering them, and avoiding the use of synthetic fertiliser, you can most likely grow food that’s more nutrient-dense than the fruit and vegetables we buy.
You can actually taste good nutrition. When you bite into a fresh, local, in-season peach, the flavour explodes in your mouth. Then in mid-winter, when we see a peach in the supermarket and remember that taste from summer, we’re disappointed when we bite into it because it tastes like water.
Those of you who already have a vegetable garden know this. No vegetables taste as good as the ones you’ve grown yourself and have picked fresh, ready to be eaten.
Even if you live in an apartment you may still have the opportunity to grow some greens in pots on the balcony. At least this way you can pop out in the morning and pick something fresh, such as home-grown herbs, to go with your eggs or to put in your smoothie.
If there’s no way for you to grow any food, then your local farmers’ market is going to be your best option. Remember to focus on local, in-season produce to get the most nutrients from the food you eat.
Ben Warren is a nutrition and holistic health expert.