Gardening like a nutritionist involves several steps to enhance the nutrient density of your homegrown foods. Whether you’re using raised beds or small pots in your outdoor space, you can improve your soil’s microbiome, increase nutrient uptake and add variety to your diet, all while benefiting from the therapeutic rituals that go hand-in-hand with spending time in the dirt.
Gardening Like a Nutritionist: Your Soil’s Microbiome
- The health of your soil directly impacts the nutrients found in your food, including flavonoids. Flavonoids, which give plants their colorful pigments, contain therapeutic health benefits for the consumer. These molecules also benefit plant health, attracting pollinators, regulating plant cell growth and offering protection from environmental stress. High flavonoid count is typically linked to improved soil quality, limited exposure to chemicals, and the ripeness of foods when harvested.
- To promote soil quality, I add organic cottonseed, bone meal, and compost to my dirt. These additions act as fertilizers which introduce key components like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium into my soil, improving its microbiome. Natural fertilizers can also increase your soil’s ability to retain water, reducing your environmental impact while maintaining produce abundance.
- Companion planting (growing two species together) helps ward off pests and may enhance plant nutrient uptake from the soil. Tomatoes (a fruit) and radishes (a member of the brassica family which includes cauliflower, kale, and broccoli) are particularly compatible. These plants benefit from sharing soil and space, positively influencing your garden’s ecosystem. Adding marigolds or sweet alyssum nearby may also promote cross-pollination during the growing season.
- Companion planting also offers an opportunity for intuitive flavor pairings. Thick slices of tomatoes accompanied by finely diced radishes and a splash of olive oil provides a decadent summer meal. Some radish varieties are even used to stimulate bile production (a digestive fluid made in your liver and stored in your gallbladder that breaks down dietary fats like olive oil).
Gardening Like a Nutritionist: Lettuce Blossoms & Edible Flowers
- Cultivating your own food encourages you to connect with your plant’s story, from seed to stalk to flower. For example, dark leafy greens produce beautiful buds when kept in your garden for several months. These edible blossoms add dimension to your meals and may even entice your children to eat more greens. They also can be transformed into a whimsical bouquet, as shown below with flowering arugula.
- If you have extra space, consider sprinkling nasturtium seeds in unclaimed plots or unused pots. These bright orange flowers grow quickly and add pops of color as well as phytonutrients and antioxidants to your diet. They also attract pollinators to your garden.
- Some weeds even double as edible herbal additions to your plate. Yellow dandelion blossoms, for example, become delicious morsels when fried with almond flour and sweet spices. When harvesting, ensure the flowers haven’t had any exposure to lawn fertilizers, and wash thoroughly to avoid contamination of any kind.
- Beets are a personal favorite because of their sugary, meaty roots and delicious greens. These starchy vegetables are high in dietary nitrates (which convert to nitric oxide to dilate blood vessels, modulating blood pressure). Beets have also been studied for their positive impact on cognitive and digestive health. I love roasting the roots separately and sautéing the greens with olive oil, garlic and lemon.
- Scallions (green onions) are an easy plant to grow in outdoor pots. The add peppery flavor to salads, savory breakfast dishes or when sprinkled on a steaming bowl of soup. Green onions contain a flavonoid called quercetin, anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine by nature.
- Tomatoes are a garden staple, offering a healthy dose of lycopene (which acts as an antioxidant). Research has linked lycopene to cardiovascular health, and ingestion may even benefit respiratory health. Still, tomatoes are a part of the nightshade family, making them high in histamines. This can cause an adverse reaction for some, including itching, hives, sneezing, or headache when consumed. Common nightshades also include bell and hot peppers, eggplant, goji berries and potatoes (excluding the sweet varieties).
- Lacinato (Dinosaur) kale is my preferred variety to grow. Its flatter leaves transform into the crunchiest kale chips, an ideal vessel for olive oil and seasonings. Kale chips make an excellent stand-alone snack or as an addition to a salad or savory dish for crispy contrast.
Gardening Like a Nutritionist: Indoor Opportunities
- If outdoor space is limited, consider beginning a windowsill herb garden instead, so long as it is exposed to plenty of sunlight. Experiment with mint, commonly used kitchen herbs (including rosemary, parsley, thyme), basil, or chives.
- Browse online guides for tips on proper drainage, watering recommendations, and harvest times.
Disclaimer: Material presented on this website should not be considered medical advice. Always speak to your doctor or qualified health provider to determine what’s right for your health plan.