Not widely talked about are the many benefits to growing your own fruits and vegetables on your mental and physical health, the environment and the economy. In this blog we’ll tell you why gardening is great, as well as how to grow your own gut-friendly foods to help care for your microbiome.
With National Gardening Week from the 27th April to the 5th May and National Growing for Wellbeing week from 3rd June, there’s never been a better opportunity to talk about the benefits of gardening. Gardening has time and time again been linked with improved mental health, with charities like Thrive building their whole ethos around social and therapeutic horticulture, the ‘process of using plants and gardens to improve physical and mental health’.
So why is gardening good for our wellbeing? Firstly, it is great for our physical health, as it is generally a low-impact strength exercise, helping to build muscle mass, preserve bone density and reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
Along with the physical benefits, being exposed to dirt, while perhaps seeming counterintuitive, is an important part of supporting the microbiome. Studies have shown a reduction in the exposure to dirt, combined with the overuse of antibiotics and sanitary living environments have lessened our contact with good bacteria. ‘Playing outside, exposure to animals and dirt are all thought to have formative and positive impact on the development of the microbiome.’
Not only can gardening support your health and wellbeing, it can also be used to care and connect with others in your local community. Allotments are especially good for meeting other keen gardeners; find out how to get your own allotment on The National Allotment Society website. You can also care for your community through gardening in other ways, such as volunteering for Thrive, The RHS or The National Trust. These projects focus on caring for the community and improving lives through gardening, as well as giving a positive impact to the health of the gardeners involved.
Growing your own fruit and veg has other benefits too, as it gives you full control of whether to use pesticides and chemicals, and could also help reduce your carbon footprint. If you think of all the transport used to get food from farm to supermarket, especially if it comes from abroad, this can give you a significantly higher carbon footprint.
Even if you don’t have a garden or allotment you can still ‘grow your own’, whether this be inside on a windowsill or in a window box. Strawberries, radishes, spinach and herbs are ideal to grow in smaller spaces. Whilst this might not give you the full benefits of being outside, it will certainly give you some satisfaction in seeing your own produce grow, as well as that all-important contact with the soil. You can find some tips on what fruit and veg to grow and how to do it here.
So, what gut friendly foods can you grow in your garden, allotment or window box?
Leafy greens (e.g. kale, cabbage) – Research studies have found ‘leafy greens to be essential for feeding good gut bacteria’ and they are also rich in nutrients. Just 80g of kale accounts for a massive 664% of your daily dose of vitamin K, 53% of vitamin A and 110% of vitamin C! It also has the added benefit of being easy to grow and pest-resistant. Kale can be planted from March to June.
Carrots – Carrots contain beta carotene; which not only contributes to their colour, but is also converted to vitamin A when consumed. As well as being gut-friendly, they are also low FODMAP and easy-to-grow, making them perfect for novice gardeners. Seeds can be sown from early spring right through to August.
Salad leaves (e.g. chicory, radishes, lettuce, spinach, cress) – Salad leaves are low in calories, but can be a useful source of vitamins, minerals and fibre, perfect for supporting a healthy microbiome. Cress and radishes can be very easily grown in a window box or on a windowsill. Lettuce, spinach and chicory need a moisture-rich, partially-shaded site and to be watered regularly.
Berries (e.g. strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, blackberries) – Berries add a great variety of phytonutrients (literally meaning plant nutrients) to our diets, as well as adding great taste and colour. Strawberries are one of the easier berries to grow, can be planted almost anywhere and are usually sown in early spring.
In conclusion, if getting outside and growing your own fruit and veg sounds appealing, have a look at the RHS site for some great tips and advice to start you off on your gardening journey. Begin in the knowledge that you might just be boosting your microbiome at the same time!