Eating Well

By Charlie Nardozzi

Americans love food - perhaps too much. As the incidence of obesity and illnesses related to the type and quantity of food we eat increases, Americans are looking at their diets and waistlines more seriously. With so many "designer foods" available, we seem to have forgotten that usually the best food is the simplest. Nutrition research shows that fresh fruits and vegetables are loaded with compounds that can keep us healthier. During National Garden Month we urge everyone to take a hard look at their eating habits and to commit to eating more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Fighting Cancer

Research about antioxidants and phytonutrients in foods regularly make the news these days. Many phytonutrients are pigments that give vegetables and fruits their color. While eating certain "colors" may help prevent specific illnesses, the way to get the most benefit is to eat some of each color every day. Here's a rundown some fruits and vegetables, grouped by color, and illnesses the associated phytonutrients help prevent.

  • Red (strawberries, tomatoes, watermelon, cherries, and red grapefruit) is associated with the presence of the lycopene and anthocyanins which have been linked to the prevention of lung, prostate, and stomach cancer.
  • Orange (carrots, squash, citrus, and melons) is associated with the presence of beta-carotene and liminoids. These substances protect our bodies against chronic bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, and lung cancer; reduce the risk of cataracts; and lower cholesterol levels.
  • Yellow (peppers, corn, and legumes), like orange, is linked to the presence of liminoids and beta-carotene and the health advantages listed above. Another "yellow" phytonutrient is zeaxanthin, which is associated with healthy vision and preventing tumors in the colon, breast and prostate glands.
  • Green (spinach, collard greens, broccoli, and tomatillos) is linked to the presence of lutein, saponins, and glucosinolates. These help preserve eyesight, maintain heart and skin health, and increase enzyme activity to detoxify carcinogens and prevent cancer.
  • Blue (blueberries, grapes, and plums), like red, is linked to the anthocyanins, and studies suggest they prevent colon, cervical, and prostate cancer.
  • Purple (grapes, raspberries, and eggplant) is associated with anthocyanins and flavonoids, and consumption has been linked to the cancer prevention and reduced inflammation.

Reducing Pesticide Exposure

While eating more vegetables and fruits will help shed pounds and make your body healthier, you have to be careful about what might be on that produce. A recent study from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization promoting public health through the reduction of environmental pollution of air, water, and food, ranked various vegetables and fruits based on pesticide tests conducted by the USDA and FDA from 1992 to 2001.

The produce was washed, and some (such as bananas) were peeled, before testing. The "Dirty Dozen" foods with the most pesticide residues were: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach, and strawberries. The EWG suggests people can lower their pesticide exposure by as much as 90 percent by buying organic when shopping for these foods. The 12 least contaminated vegetables and fruits were: asparagus, avocadoes, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, kiwi, mangoes, onions, papaya, pineapple, and green peas.

Concerns about children's exposure to pesticide residue are especially urgent. In a three-day study, University of Washington researchers analyzed urine samples of 18 kids who were eating organic fruits, vegetables, and juices, and 21 kids who were eating conventionally grown produce. The study found that the urine of children on the conventional diets had concentrations of organophosphate pesticides that were 6 to 9 times higher than the urine of kids eating organic food. Organophosphates are neurotoxins that affect brain function. They are found in pesticides such as malathion.

Gardening As Exercise

Another key ingredient to a healthy lifestyle is exercise. Research indicates that 30 minutes daily of moderate exercise, such as gardening, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, helps prevent diabetes and heart disease, and prevents or slows osteoporosis.

Although each short gardening activity, such as planting, has minimal health benefits, as long as your activities total 30 minutes per day, you'll profit from them. For example, if you weed for 10 minutes in the morning, push a mower for 10 minutes in the afternoon, and chop wood for 10 minutes in the evening, you get similar health benefit as you would doing 30 consecutive minutes of comparable activities.

Here are some examples of gardening and everyday chores that double as healthy exercise. (Note: Most Americans consume at least a 2000-calorie diet.)

Typical calories burned in 30 minutes for a 180 pound person of:
Sitting quietly: 40
Watering lawn or garden: 61
Mowing lawn (riding): 101
Trimming shrubs (power): 142
Raking: 162
Planting seedlings: 162
Mowing (push with motor): 182
Planting trees: 182
Trimming shrubs (manual): 182
Weeding 182
Digging, spading, tilling: 202
Laying sod: 202
Mowing lawn (push mower): 243
Shoveling snow: 243
Double digging: 344

Green is Relaxing

Stress reduction is also vitally important to good health. Gardening provides a way to slow down, relax, and forget about your day. Even better, taking the garden indoors and cooking your own freshly raised produce offers the added benefits of healthy food and more family time.

What You Can Do

One of our National Garden Month Partners, Slow Food USA, ( is encouraging all people to slow down and enjoy their food more. They suggest a number of ways to create a healthier lifestyle during National Garden Month.

Visit our National Garden Month ( Web site for more ideas for eating well.

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