Health Benefits of a Home Garden and How to Get Started

We moved to Ross, OH, two years ago and we love it. If you don’t know where Ross is that’s OK. I didn’t either until we moved here. LOL! We have three acres and love it. This year we decided since we have the land, we were going to start a garden.
 
With the COVID-19 pandemic going on, we’re at home now more than ever, and finally we have time to tend to a garden. The issue is … I don’t really know what I’m doing. I know fruits and veggies are great for you, but what should I be eating everyday? Can I grow these in my home garden? What about plants that I can grow inside my house?
 
I reached out to my friends at The Christ Hospital for more information about fruits and vegetables. Heather Maier, CNP, and Janet Higgins, MD, from The Christ Hospital Physicians - Primary Care had all the details.

Health benefits of fruits and vegetables 

We all know we need to eat more fruits and veggies. What are three that we should be eating everyday? Which fruits and vegetables are good for what? 

Heather: The three fruits and vegetables I suggest be consumed most days include cruciferous vegetables (see below for specifics), dark green leafy vegetables, and berries. However, I think you should add variety and not limit to just these three.  
 
Cruciferous and dark green leafy vegetables are good options to eat daily. There are many vegetables to choose from both of these groups. The cruciferous vegetables, which are high in antioxidants and vitamins C & K, include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and cabbages. Antioxidants may help to reduce the risk for cancer. Vitamin C may help with immunity against some viral infections, such as the common cold. Vitamin K is involved in blood clotting and bone development. Dark green leafy vegetables include kale, spinach and beet/collard greens. These are typically high in vitamins B2 (riboflavin), C and K. Vitamin B2 may play a role in migraine headache prevention. For a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, it is recommended most take in ½ cup of dark greens and 1.5 cups of vegetables daily. 
 
Many fruits are excellent sources of vitamin C and fiber. Some fruits are high in antioxidants. Blueberries are high in both vitamin C and antioxidants. Raspberries and strawberries; red, orange and yellow bell peppers; and tomatoes are also good sources of vitamin C and fiber.  It is recommended to take in 1/3 of a cup of fruit a day (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). 
 

Is it possible to control most ailments through healthy eating? 

Heather: Yes and no. A healthy diet can be very effective in complementing management of most chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol and cancer. Often though, diet alone is insufficient in managing these diseases for most people. However, a healthy, balanced diet and exercise can help to reduce the number and doses of medications needed to treat many of these conditions.  
 
I often recommend the Mediterranean Diet to most of my patients. I follow this myself, as it is high in vegetable, fruits, grains, monosaturated fats and fiber… and it’s delicious! Olive oil is an excellent source of fat and can be incorporated into the diet on a daily basis. It can be followed with meat or without. If meat is consumed, lean meats such as poultry and fish are recommended. Red meat intake should be avoided as much as possible; I suggest no more than a couple times a month at the most for those who do not wish to eliminate it entirely. Beets are high in nitric oxide, which can help to lower blood pressure. 
 
Also, there are some health conditions that can be made worse with certain foods. Individuals with high blood pressure would also want to limit their sodium intake. Vegetables that are processed (pickling, canning) can be very high in sodium and should be avoided if you have high blood pressure.  
 
Gout can be brought on by foods high in purines as this can cause high levels of uric acid, which can deposit in the joints, causing inflammation and pain or form kidney stones. Vegetables high in purine include asparagus, spinach and mushrooms. While we don’t advise avoiding these foods completely, individuals susceptible to these conditions may want to watch the intake and reduce if more prone to flares. 
 
Vegetables high in vitamin K can interfere with the anticoagulant, coumadin, requiring frequent monitoring if these are consumed on a variable basis. 
 

Many people worry about the carbohydrates in fruits. Should we be worried about these? 

Heather: Fruits and vegetables have varying amounts of carbohydrates and their carbohydrate content can be ranked according to what is known as a glycemic index.
 
Foods high on the glycemic index are high in simple sugars (glucose). White/yellow potatoes are high on the index (around 80%), while a sweet potato is slightly lower around 55-60%, and a better choice. Vegetables lower on the glycemic index include asparagus, avocado, cruciferous vegetables, cucumber, lettuces, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions and bell peppers. 
 
Apples, bananas, pineapple, watermelon are higher in sugar content and have higher glycemic indices. Berries tend to be lower. Opting for whole fruit over juices will also help to reduce the sugar content and increase your fiber intake. 
 
As with most things, moderation is key. I suggest taking in reduced amounts of foods higher in carbohydrate, but not eliminating them entirely as they also contain many of the vitamins and fiber we need.  

Home garden basics 

What are some easy vegetables to grow at home? 

Dr. Higgins: Growing vegetables at home is great way to have fresh, wonderful tasting vegetables.  For me, a homegrown tomato is one of the joys of summer.  Luckily, the most popular vegetables are also some of the easiest ones to grow.  
 
Lettuce, spinach, kale and Swiss chard are some of the first vegetables that can be planted and harvested.  These early crops provide fresh vegetables while the warm weather crops are developing.  The best known of these summer crops is the tomato, which is the most popular vegetable to grow at home. They come in a variety of sizes – from small cherry tomatoes to 2 lb. tomatoes.  There are many varieties that are grown specifically to allow you to grow them on a deck or a patio.  Other easy vegetables to grow are peppers, green beans, cucumbers, and squash.  Beans and cucumbers can be grown vertically which allows you to grow them in a small space.  
  
Fruit is harder to grow at home since most grows on bushes and trees that take time to mature.  Strawberries are an exception.  You can purchase plants that are ready to bear fruit. Like tomatoes, strawberries can be grown on a balcony or a deck in addition to in a garden.   
 
The other category of plants that are easy to grow at home are herbs.  Fresh herbs add a delightful taste to most food.   
Involving kids in gardening is a great way to introduce them to a variety of vegetables.  Almost all kids will eat food that they help grow. 
 

Can I grow anything inside? 

Dr. Higgins: Herbs are easy to grow inside.  Oregano, basil, chives, and thyme are some of the most popular ones to grow inside.  Just give them some light and regular watering, and you can have fresh herbs all winter. 
 
Citrus fruit can also be grown inside.  It is possible to buy lemon, lime, and orange trees and grow your own fruit.  I have managed to grow a few lemons and limes but not oranges. Although it is unlikely that you would be able to grow enough of these fruits to meet your needs, the trees are attractive and give off a delightful fragrance when flowering.   
 

If I want to be more deliberate with a garden or growing things at home, what can I plant? 

When beginning to garden, it is important to start small.  Starting with a 4 x 4’ plot can allow you to grow many vegetables, but not be overwhelmed.  One of the most common mistakes home gardeners make is being too ambitious.  By July, they are overwhelmed and quickly find their gardens overtaken by weeds or killed by heat and drought.  However, if you start off with a small plot and learn the basics of gardening, you may quickly find that you have been bitten by the gardening bug.  
 
After learning the basics, there are multiple new things to try.  I would recommend buying tomato and pepper plants as a beginner, but as you get more experienced, you can start plants from seeds. This can save you money and allow you to grow more varieties than you might find at a local garden center. 
 
Square foot gardening is very popular. You plant different vegetables in each square. This allows you to have a high yield in a small space.  Planting this way gives you room to experiment with unusual vegetables such as kohlrabi, Brussel sprouts, or heirloom tomatoes. Using this technique, it is possible to grow food almost year-round by rotating the crops you plant and staggering the starting times. 
 
Growing fruit trees or berry bushes is another exciting gardening experience. Unfortunately, fruit trees are prone to pests and require a meticulous schedule of care to protect the developing fruits. Berries such as blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are easier to grow, but you need to watch out for the new flock of birdie friends that you will develop who are likely to beat you to the ripe fruit. 
 
Hydroponic gardening is growing plants in water. This allows you to grow many more plants in a very small area and generally faster than by traditional methods. The downside is that it requires special equipment. By this method, you can have fresh produce year-round.   
 

Gardening help 

Dr. Higgins: Gardening is a great way to grow healthy, tasty food, but it can be a challenge. There are many places where you can get help.  Your county extension provides classes and can answer your questions. Nurseries also have staff that are more than happy to assist you in your gardening ventures!
 
There are many resources online including ones through The Ohio State University extension, seed and plant companies, and botanical gardens. Finally, your local library has many resources. Most even have a seed library where you can get started with free seeds! This saves you from having to buy a whole packet of seeds to grow just a few plants. Since the seeds are from local gardeners, you know that that variety of plant will grow well in this area. 

Fritsch: We decided to grow some of the easier ones this year since it’s our first attempt. We are planting tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and some peppers. We can’t wait to eat from our garden. Good luck and let me know how your garden grows. Happy Gardening! 

Looking for a partner to help get your whole family's health on track? Schedule an appointment  today with one of our primary care physicians, at a location near you!


​​Jennifer Fritsch is part of the Jeff and Jenn Morning Show on Q102, which airs on weekdays from 5:30-10 a.m. As a new mom to daughter Penelope, Fritsch also hosts a weekly video on the Jeff and Jenn Morning Show Facebook page. In her videos, she discusses various parenting topics using #MomChatMonday. When she isn't working, Fritsch enjoys traveling, visiting new places and of course, being a mom! As a paid partner of The Christ Hospital Health Network, Fritsch is eager to share her experiences as a new mom with Healthspirations.


Health Benefits of a Home Garden and How to Get Started ​Jennifer Fritsch, Q102 radio personality, had questions about which fruits and veggies to eat daily and which to grown now that she finally has time for a home garden. Read what she learned and how she got started.
We moved to Ross, OH, two years ago and we love it. If you don’t know where Ross is that’s OK. I didn’t either until we moved here. LOL! We have three acres and love it. This year we decided since we have the land, we were going to start a garden.
 
With the COVID-19 pandemic going on, we’re at home now more than ever, and finally we have time to tend to a garden. The issue is … I don’t really know what I’m doing. I know fruits and veggies are great for you, but what should I be eating everyday? Can I grow these in my home garden? What about plants that I can grow inside my house?
 
I reached out to my friends at The Christ Hospital for more information about fruits and vegetables. Heather Maier, CNP, and Janet Higgins, MD, from The Christ Hospital Physicians - Primary Care had all the details.

Health benefits of fruits and vegetables 

We all know we need to eat more fruits and veggies. What are three that we should be eating everyday? Which fruits and vegetables are good for what? 

Heather: The three fruits and vegetables I suggest be consumed most days include cruciferous vegetables (see below for specifics), dark green leafy vegetables, and berries. However, I think you should add variety and not limit to just these three.  
 
Cruciferous and dark green leafy vegetables are good options to eat daily. There are many vegetables to choose from both of these groups. The cruciferous vegetables, which are high in antioxidants and vitamins C & K, include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and cabbages. Antioxidants may help to reduce the risk for cancer. Vitamin C may help with immunity against some viral infections, such as the common cold. Vitamin K is involved in blood clotting and bone development. Dark green leafy vegetables include kale, spinach and beet/collard greens. These are typically high in vitamins B2 (riboflavin), C and K. Vitamin B2 may play a role in migraine headache prevention. For a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, it is recommended most take in ½ cup of dark greens and 1.5 cups of vegetables daily. 
 
Many fruits are excellent sources of vitamin C and fiber. Some fruits are high in antioxidants. Blueberries are high in both vitamin C and antioxidants. Raspberries and strawberries; red, orange and yellow bell peppers; and tomatoes are also good sources of vitamin C and fiber.  It is recommended to take in 1/3 of a cup of fruit a day (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). 
 

Is it possible to control most ailments through healthy eating? 

Heather: Yes and no. A healthy diet can be very effective in complementing management of most chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol and cancer. Often though, diet alone is insufficient in managing these diseases for most people. However, a healthy, balanced diet and exercise can help to reduce the number and doses of medications needed to treat many of these conditions.  
 
I often recommend the Mediterranean Diet to most of my patients. I follow this myself, as it is high in vegetable, fruits, grains, monosaturated fats and fiber… and it’s delicious! Olive oil is an excellent source of fat and can be incorporated into the diet on a daily basis. It can be followed with meat or without. If meat is consumed, lean meats such as poultry and fish are recommended. Red meat intake should be avoided as much as possible; I suggest no more than a couple times a month at the most for those who do not wish to eliminate it entirely. Beets are high in nitric oxide, which can help to lower blood pressure. 
 
Also, there are some health conditions that can be made worse with certain foods. Individuals with high blood pressure would also want to limit their sodium intake. Vegetables that are processed (pickling, canning) can be very high in sodium and should be avoided if you have high blood pressure.  
 
Gout can be brought on by foods high in purines as this can cause high levels of uric acid, which can deposit in the joints, causing inflammation and pain or form kidney stones. Vegetables high in purine include asparagus, spinach and mushrooms. While we don’t advise avoiding these foods completely, individuals susceptible to these conditions may want to watch the intake and reduce if more prone to flares. 
 
Vegetables high in vitamin K can interfere with the anticoagulant, coumadin, requiring frequent monitoring if these are consumed on a variable basis. 
 

Many people worry about the carbohydrates in fruits. Should we be worried about these? 

Heather: Fruits and vegetables have varying amounts of carbohydrates and their carbohydrate content can be ranked according to what is known as a glycemic index.
 
Foods high on the glycemic index are high in simple sugars (glucose). White/yellow potatoes are high on the index (around 80%), while a sweet potato is slightly lower around 55-60%, and a better choice. Vegetables lower on the glycemic index include asparagus, avocado, cruciferous vegetables, cucumber, lettuces, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions and bell peppers. 
 
Apples, bananas, pineapple, watermelon are higher in sugar content and have higher glycemic indices. Berries tend to be lower. Opting for whole fruit over juices will also help to reduce the sugar content and increase your fiber intake. 
 
As with most things, moderation is key. I suggest taking in reduced amounts of foods higher in carbohydrate, but not eliminating them entirely as they also contain many of the vitamins and fiber we need.  

Home garden basics 

What are some easy vegetables to grow at home? 

Dr. Higgins: Growing vegetables at home is great way to have fresh, wonderful tasting vegetables.  For me, a homegrown tomato is one of the joys of summer.  Luckily, the most popular vegetables are also some of the easiest ones to grow.  
 
Lettuce, spinach, kale and Swiss chard are some of the first vegetables that can be planted and harvested.  These early crops provide fresh vegetables while the warm weather crops are developing.  The best known of these summer crops is the tomato, which is the most popular vegetable to grow at home. They come in a variety of sizes – from small cherry tomatoes to 2 lb. tomatoes.  There are many varieties that are grown specifically to allow you to grow them on a deck or a patio.  Other easy vegetables to grow are peppers, green beans, cucumbers, and squash.  Beans and cucumbers can be grown vertically which allows you to grow them in a small space.  
  
Fruit is harder to grow at home since most grows on bushes and trees that take time to mature.  Strawberries are an exception.  You can purchase plants that are ready to bear fruit. Like tomatoes, strawberries can be grown on a balcony or a deck in addition to in a garden.   
 
The other category of plants that are easy to grow at home are herbs.  Fresh herbs add a delightful taste to most food.   
Involving kids in gardening is a great way to introduce them to a variety of vegetables.  Almost all kids will eat food that they help grow. 
 

Can I grow anything inside? 

Dr. Higgins: Herbs are easy to grow inside.  Oregano, basil, chives, and thyme are some of the most popular ones to grow inside.  Just give them some light and regular watering, and you can have fresh herbs all winter. 
 
Citrus fruit can also be grown inside.  It is possible to buy lemon, lime, and orange trees and grow your own fruit.  I have managed to grow a few lemons and limes but not oranges. Although it is unlikely that you would be able to grow enough of these fruits to meet your needs, the trees are attractive and give off a delightful fragrance when flowering.   
 

If I want to be more deliberate with a garden or growing things at home, what can I plant? 

When beginning to garden, it is important to start small.  Starting with a 4 x 4’ plot can allow you to grow many vegetables, but not be overwhelmed.  One of the most common mistakes home gardeners make is being too ambitious.  By July, they are overwhelmed and quickly find their gardens overtaken by weeds or killed by heat and drought.  However, if you start off with a small plot and learn the basics of gardening, you may quickly find that you have been bitten by the gardening bug.  
 
After learning the basics, there are multiple new things to try.  I would recommend buying tomato and pepper plants as a beginner, but as you get more experienced, you can start plants from seeds. This can save you money and allow you to grow more varieties than you might find at a local garden center. 
 
Square foot gardening is very popular. You plant different vegetables in each square. This allows you to have a high yield in a small space.  Planting this way gives you room to experiment with unusual vegetables such as kohlrabi, Brussel sprouts, or heirloom tomatoes. Using this technique, it is possible to grow food almost year-round by rotating the crops you plant and staggering the starting times. 
 
Growing fruit trees or berry bushes is another exciting gardening experience. Unfortunately, fruit trees are prone to pests and require a meticulous schedule of care to protect the developing fruits. Berries such as blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are easier to grow, but you need to watch out for the new flock of birdie friends that you will develop who are likely to beat you to the ripe fruit. 
 
Hydroponic gardening is growing plants in water. This allows you to grow many more plants in a very small area and generally faster than by traditional methods. The downside is that it requires special equipment. By this method, you can have fresh produce year-round.   
 

Gardening help 

Dr. Higgins: Gardening is a great way to grow healthy, tasty food, but it can be a challenge. There are many places where you can get help.  Your county extension provides classes and can answer your questions. Nurseries also have staff that are more than happy to assist you in your gardening ventures!
 
There are many resources online including ones through The Ohio State University extension, seed and plant companies, and botanical gardens. Finally, your local library has many resources. Most even have a seed library where you can get started with free seeds! This saves you from having to buy a whole packet of seeds to grow just a few plants. Since the seeds are from local gardeners, you know that that variety of plant will grow well in this area. 

Fritsch: We decided to grow some of the easier ones this year since it’s our first attempt. We are planting tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and some peppers. We can’t wait to eat from our garden. Good luck and let me know how your garden grows. Happy Gardening! 

Looking for a partner to help get your whole family's health on track? Schedule an appointment  today with one of our primary care physicians, at a location near you!


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