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Nutritional Guide

Nutritional Guide - Grow Your Way to 5 a day


What better way to benefit from eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day than growing your own?


'Science is starting to confirm what many people have suspected for years; a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, can help slow down the ageing process, reduce the risk of developing age-related diseases and increae our chances of having a long active life'.

Dr Trueman (Lecturer and leading consultant to the horticultural industry, speicialising in the effects of eating fruit and vegetables on human health).


Every day our bodies produce destructive toxins called oxidents and we also get exposed to harmful agents such as viruses, bacteria, pollutents, UV rays etc., the result being at best we age, and at worse we contract age-related diseases. We can't remove our exposure to these agents completely but we can attempt to limit their damage, by staying clear of people who are ill, moving out of the sun, taking exercise and trying to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Plants also have to face these agents but for them it's harder - they can't run away - they are literally rooted to the spot and have to tackle them head on. Plants have become experts at acquiring or making a wide range of protective nutrients to help. They contain fibre and vitamins and essential minerals, which our bodies need to function properly, and antioxidents which do as they say and make the toxic oxidants harmless. By eating these plants we can pinch these nutrients for ourselves.

Currently the Government suggests we eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day and the '5 A DAY' mantra is eating as wide a variety of fruit and vegetables as you can. This is not hard to do with the variety in the supermarkets today, but the home gardener has several advantages.

Special offers page So why grow your own?

Aren't the supermarkets full of fruit and vegetables? Yes, but by growing your own you can maximise the potential health benefits you get from your fruit and vegetables.

Conventional methods of cultivation try to remove stresses such as drought, pests etc, from the plants as they grow so that they can use their resources to grow as perfect and blemish free as they can.

By growing plants naturally they have to deal with these themselves and normally do this by producing the protective compounds so beneficial to human health. Crops may be smaller, but this is often due to water content, and plant for plant their vitamin and mineral content is often similar. As a result the concentration of vitamins and minerals in naturally grown crops tends to be higher.

Growing your own means you know where your fruit and vegetables have come from and how they have been grown. You can grow great variety, in a wide range of colours, and if the crop is harvested just before consumption, it will be as fresh as possible and full of nutrients and vitamins. Plus, you can't beat the wonderful taste and flavour of home grown produce eaten fresh from the garden. And what satisfaction - eating the fruits of your own labour.

You don't need an allotment or large garden to grow vegetables and you don't have to be an experienced gardener. Many varieties can be grown in pots or mixed in with your flowers in your borders, most are easy to grow and you will be rewarded with a plentiful harvest. There really is something for everyone and every taste.

Not been to the gym lately?

Thrown into the bargain, working in your garden has other benefits to health. It is a natural form of exercise using all the major muscle groups and potentially burning hundreds of calories per hour, (depending on your size and the effort you put in). You will be out in the fresh air and all that extra exposure to the sun - don't forget the hat and sun cream! - will ensure your body can make vitamin D - a vitamin lacking in fruit and vegetables.

We all need a bolt-hole to relax in and get away from the pressures and stresses of everyday life, so why not make it your garden or allotment? Enjoy growing your own fruit and vegetables and then enjoy them again with family and friends at the dinner table.

If those aren't good enough reasons - they'll cost a fraction of the price of buying from a supermarket.

Bored by the same fruit and veg, cooked the same way?

Variety is the spice of life ... and also one of the secrets to maintaining health.

Eating the same five vegetables, prepared in the same way every day is selling you short. Brighten your garden and your meals with a rainbow of colours. Try different ways of cooking and eating your vegetables and experience the differnt textures and flavours. Here are a few hints on how you can introduce variety into your diet and maximise the potential health benefit you get from your food.

Eating a range of different coloured fruit and vegetables every day will ensure you get exposed to a lot of different nutrients. The Government suggests 5 a day but the more the better. And it is not boring and not as diffucult as you think. Did you know that from a selection of just 30 fruit and vegetables you could choose a different set of 5 every day for nearly 400 years?

Did you know that not all carrots are orange? - look out for the creamy yellow and deep purple variety, beetroot in red, white and orange, courgettes in green and gold and tomatoes in red, yellow, even black and every size from bite-size cherry tomatoes to the supersteaks where one slice will fill a sandwich.

Different flavours, different textures and added benefits

Eating raw or cooking vegetables in different ways not only provides different textures, but also maximises the benefit you can get from them. Cooking destroys some nutrients but makes other more readily available to us, so eat some uncooked, some cooked and some juiced. For instance, you can absorb more beta-carotene from a cooked carrot than by eating it raw, but get more vitamin C from raw broccoli than sauteed.

Antioxidants can also be lost during some cooking methods:

Anthocyanins, (dark-puple blue) dissolve easily in water so our gut easily takes then up but they are also easily lost in to the cooking liquid - the reason why the cooking water turns red when you boil red cabbage or purple sprouting broccoli. In contrast beta-carotene (orange) and lycopene (red) are very insoluable in water so they are not lost to cooking water but equally are not so readily taken up by the gut. To maximise anthocyanin availability, try steaming or use just a little water and save it for the gravy, while with beta-carotene and lycopene, bioavailability can be increased by cooking in a little oil such as sunflower (for added vitamin E).

Steaming is a good way to cook many vegetables such as brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, kale etc.) carrots, parsnips, peas and beans. It is fast and preserves the flavour, colour and texture and also the nutrients than can be lost in boiling.

Juicing can enhance the health benefits from some vegetables. For instance the amount of compounds gained from eating brassicas (cabbages, kale etc.) and onions depends on the amount of chopping during preparation for cooking. These compounds are regarded as having potent health benefits and maximising your intake is widely considered to be beneficial, although they do tend to increase the bitterness of the dish.

Juicing might seem like the best way to prepare fruit and vegetables and it has much to recommend it, but it also destroys dietary fibre which is why the Deparment of Health 5 A DAY guidelines only count juice as one portion per day however much you drink.

Whatever you choose to grow, rememberthe five a day principle and select a range of fruit and vegetables in as wide a colour range as possible, and once you have had the fun and satisfaction of growing them yourself, prepare and cook them in a variety of ways to help you and your family on their way to a healthy and active lifestyle.

Useful Links

Click here to view 'How to ... garden guides

Click here to view 'Top 10 easy to grow vegetables'

Click here to view 'Nutrition Guide by Vegetable Species'