Thursday, 3 March 2011

Plants for a healthy living


The active gardener can derive immense benefits to a healthy life style from his garden.
The exercise value alone can be significant but add in the fresh air and sunshine, the home grown fruit and vegetables free from pesticides and then the visual pleasures of flowers and scents and you have a great start to a healthy life.
Home grown produce will be free from the harmful pesticides and herbicides used as routine on commercial crops. Crops grown in UK come under very strict control ensuring that only safe and approved pesticides are used, but imported crops from all over the world do not have the same regulations and controls as we have here, so food health is a gamble. If you grow your own food crops you reduce the need to buy imported foods.
Even a small garden or allotment can provide a small family with most of their annual needs in fruit and vegetables and cut flower for the house with good cultivations and careful planning.
The Scottish diet gets a bad press, however, a lot of effort goes into promoting healthier foods and into encouraging people to cut back on the high fat fast foods, junk food, and fry ups in favour of  eating  more fruit, vegetables, nuts and grains.
The availability of cheap instant food has allowed people to take the easy option with the minimum of cooking. However in time, we may well revert to a healthier diet as promotion runs at full tilt with good and entertaining cookery programmes on TV on a daily basis.

I was one of the lucky ones. My father came from rural Poland where there were precious little shops so people grew their own produce. He always had the garden filled with fruit and vegetables and had an allotment all his life. I got to appreciate the taste of fresh fruit and vegetables at an early age. However, there was always a bit of wicked temptations in youth. It was normal on a night out to have six pints followed by a donar kebab, but with my healthy background I only had five pints and a single fish, nae chips. Well, you have to start somewhere.

The Problems

The human lifestyle has evolved a lot faster than our bodies’ ability to keep up with the changes. A lot of our food is refined, processed, treated with chemicals, and supermarkets have taken over as our main suppliers. Their concern is profits, not healthy food.
Our diet is responsible for the massive increase in poor health from heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and hypertension.
Everyone knows the answer, but it is not easy to change the old habits of excessive drinking, smoking, junk food, too much TV/computer and not nearly enough exercise.
It is very hard to leave the car at home, and not watch those very interesting TV programmes, but with a wee bit of Scottish determination and will power we can make a few changes.
The body does need some fats to function properly, so the occasional chip is good for us, and a wee nip or glass of red wine every so often, purely for our medicinal needs will keep us in good form.
It’s all about moderation.
Then if you can combine more exercise into your routine your on the right track. After an hour at the gym I was ready for my shower, but my daughter wanted an extra fifteen minutes. She had been counting calories and knew that it would take fifteen minutes of lost calories to burn off the large slice of gateaux she had waiting at home as her reward.

The Foods

As I have always had a garden it has been easy to integrate plenty of fruit and vegetables into my daily diet, especially from early summer onwards.
Forced rhubarb started the season stewed and added to my morning muesli or in puddings and crumbles.
My muesli has added sultanas, dates and many nuts, so I am well on my way to achieving my daily five portions of fruit and vegetables. Later on fresh picked berries are added over the summer and autumn months. Frozen berries are used for a mixed fruit compote which complements, breakfast and desserts.
Lunch and dinner may well be a salad with home grown lettuce, tomatoes, and radish or a cooked meal with cabbage, turnip, onions, garlic, sweet corn, beans, beetroot or whatever is in season.
Preparation of foods is important to get the best out of them. Do not wash food excessively otherwise some vitamins existing on the surface may be lost. Go easy on the creams and yoghurts with fresh fruit as the calcium in these can lock up some of the beneficial vitamins and minerals.

The Superfoods

It is beneficial for healthy eating to include as wide a variety of foods as possible as they all have different levels of nutrients, and several are known to be very high in antioxidants and specific vitamins and minerals.
Superfood status is given to those possessing the greatest levels of a particular feature, or having a wide range of health benefits.

My garden will always have the following essential crops.

The chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa comes at the top of my list. It has the highest level of vitamin C and anthocyanins, an antioxidant that gives the berry its black colour, than any other plant. Antioxidants are very beneficial to sufferers of some cancers, heart disease, ulcers and many other conditions.
Blackcurrants come close behind with very high levels of vitamin C, then saskatoons and blueberries.
Rhubarb is a must have plant that can be used all year round with forced, fresh and frozen sticks. This was covered in last weeks feature.
Garlic is used in cooking numerous dishes to impart its attractive pungent flavour, but as a health food, it is said to help sufferers of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and some cancers.
Cabbage and all the other brassicas including Brussels sprouts, broccoli and kale are available all year round. They also have high levels of vitamin C, dietary fibre and multiple nutrients useful against heart diseases, cancer and inflammation.
Kale is especially nutritious with powerful antioxidant properties.
Beetroot is delicious in soups and savouries and is very high in antioxidants, magnesium, sodium, potassium and vitamin C. It is important for cardiovascular health, and has been shown to lower blood pressure.

Demand for allotments shows that the message is getting through for the need for a healthier lifestyle, but in Scotland we still need more people to jump on the bandwagon.


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