There are many reasons people grow their own vegetables, and the number one reason is probably taste. It is hard to beat the taste of a home grown tomato that has just been picked. I don’t think I have ever had that taste duplicated from a supermarket tomato even those labeled as ‘vine ripened’. Even an ear of corn has a distinct flavor when it has just been harvested and root crops like potatoes and carrots have a much richer taste when they are harvested just prior to eating. Of course the ‘mind’ is also at work here and mentally we are programmed to think a home grown vegetable is better. Another factor with home grown vegetables that I often hear from other gardeners is that, you, as the gardener know exactly what kind of nutrients and chemicals, if any, have been used on the plants.
But what about the nutritional value of what we are eating from our garden. This has long been an interest of mine and I regularly read health and nutrition updates to keep up with the latest research. The following is a listing of some vegetables that are commonly grown in home gardens and what they are known for.
As a general guideline, most vegetables provide negligible amounts of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. The percent daily values, (%DV), are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. While other vitamins and minerals are present, I am listing the most prominent and the figures mentioned are approximate.
Tomato The most popular home garden vegetable, although technically the tomato is from a flower and would botanically be classified as a fruit, common usage considers it a vegetable. One medium, (5.3 oz), tomato has 25 calories, and %DV of 10% potassium, 20% Vitamin A, 40% Vitamin C. Tomatoes also contain lycopene which gives them their red color. Lycopene is an antioxidant and some recent research indicates that it may help prevent some cancers, notability prostate cancer. In spite of what your mother might have told you about the benefits of eating raw vegetables, cooking tomatoes increases the value of lycopene to the body by 50% or more. Tomato sauce, tomato paste, tomato soup, and tomato juice would be good sources of lycopene. Recently some tomatoes have been bred to have a high lycopene content, Health Kick is a good example.
Leaf Lettuce One and a half cups of leaf lettuce has about 15 calories. Leaf lettuce is extremely high in vitamin A with a 130% DV. It has trace amounts of iron, calcium and vitamin C.
Carrot An average size carrot, (about 7 inches long), has about 30 calories. Orange carrots are very high in beta carotene which is an antioxidant pigment. The body converts beta carotene to vitamin A and one carrot has about 110% DV. The nutritional value of carrots varies with the color of the carrot and generally the lighter the color, the less beta carotene.
Sweet Corn One medium ear has about 90 calories, 2% DV iron, 8% DV dietary fiber and 10% DV vitamin C. Corn has an insoluble fiber that feeds good bacteria in the gut and aids in digestion. Yellow corn has two antioxidants, leutein and zeaxanthin, both of which promote healthy vision.
Beet One medium size beet has about 60 calories and about 12% DV potassium, 11% DV vitamin C, and 15% DV fiber. Recent studies have indicated that beets and beet juice have some addition health benefits as beets contain nitrates and pigments that may lower blood pressure and increase blood flow.
These are just some examples of the nutritional value of these vegetables. I think we could all benefit from eating healthier foods. I would not suggest any lifestyle changes based on this information without checking with your doctor, but I believe that by learning more about what we eat can be a benefit for our bodies.