I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love food. My love of eating and trying new foods, especially health-boosting plants, eventually led me to a love for cooking. These days, I love to have fun in the kitchen and create new combinations of my favorite foods, try spices I’ve never cooked with before and experiment with ways to “healthify” my recipes. That means reducing saturated fats, sodium and added sugars and using plenty of fruits, vegetables and herbs.
In recent years, I’ve been fortunate to learn more about how food goes from farm to table. I’ve met farmers and others in the food industry who play a role in delivering safe and delicious food. Something else unexpected happened: I got interested in growing food! No, I’ll never be a farmer, and I’ll probably never be able to prepare a meal entirely from food my family grows, but I do get a thrill from watching my small fig tree go from a bare stick to an actual tree that sprouts leaves in early spring and grows tiny brown fruit late in the summer. Maybe this will be the year of my tree’s young life that figs will grow big, juicy and plentiful. Also in my yard are tomatoes, cucumbers, asparagus, eggplants and herbs, herbs and more herbs. At various times, we’ve grown lettuce, peanuts, broccoli, sunflowers, peppers, pumpkin, cantaloupe, blueberries, strawberries, summer squash and a few other summer vegetables.
For the Love of Gardening
In addition to nature’s bounty, there’s plenty to love about gardening, whether you choose to grow food or flowers.
- You experience the joy of nurturing and creating. Putting your hands in the dirt and tending to something growing is calming, satisfying and, to many people, spiritual.
- Gardening helps you unplug from a noisy, fast-paced world.
- You can pick your crops at their peak of ripeness and when you’re ready to eat them. Fresh fruits and vegetables provide the most nutrition when they are eaten shortly after harvest. It is very rewarding to go out in my backyard just before dinner to pick a few asparagus and herbs and toss them lightly with oil before heating and then eating.
- If you grow fruits and vegetables, you might eat more of them. And that’s critically important, as most Americans fall woefully short of the recommended servings of these disease-fighting foods.
- Gardening gives you exercise with a purpose. Bending, stretching, digging, even pulling weeds count as light exercise. This is a terrific way to decrease our sedentary time. Too much sitting and too little activity are linked to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Even if you’re not ready to dig into the earth or if you don’t have a yard to dig, you can enjoy a small container garden. Visit a nursery to pick out a container and a few types of seeds or plants.
Serve Up Nature’s Bounty Deliciously
This is the most delightful time of year to bring a boatload of nutritious fruits and vegetables into your kitchen. The freshest produce burst with flavor and often need nothing more than a good rinse before serving. Enjoy tomatoes, cucumbers, berries and so many more spring and summer beauties straight out of hand. Try these simply prepared combinations too, all of which are made sweeter and more delicious with stevia extract. Interestingly, stevia is a plant related to a common flower that may be in your garden – chrysanthemum or mum, for short.
- Place sliced fresh tomatoes and peaches on a plate. Sprinkle with fresh basil leaves, and drizzle with a dressing of sherry vinegar, olive oil, stevia and salt and pepper.
- Freeze your favorite combination of berries. Using a food processor, mix frozen berries, water and stevia until mostly smooth. Freeze the mixture in a popsicle mold or ice tray for a frozen treat.
- Flavor iced tea with lemon or orange slices, stevia and either basil or mint leaves.
I hope you’ll get outside and grow something delicious!
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND has worked as both a nutrition counselor and a diabetes educator in the hospital and research settings, and now in private practice in Newport News, VA. Jill is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss – Week by Week and two upcoming books, The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition and 21 Things You Need to Know about Diabetes and Your Heart. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Association of Diabetes Educators and the American Diabetes Association. Jill is a paid contributor to Steviabenefits.org. Follow Jill on Twitter @NutritionJill and find more at www.JillWeisenberger.com.