Garden Talk: November 3, 2011

From NGA Editors

Eat Vegetables and Fruits for a Healthy Heart

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It may not be news that both genes and diet can play a role in the health of your heart. But which is more important? A new study suggests that a diet high in fruits and veggies, especially raw ones, may help overcome the effect of genes known to increase the risk of heart disease.

According to an October 12, 2011 article on the Time Magazine website, Canadian researchers looked at two large sets of data, one with more than 8100 participants in 52 countries and one in Finland with more than 19,000. The participants were separated into groups based on their type of diet and on their genetic profiles for increased risk of heart attacks.

What researchers found was that people in the group with high-risk genes were twice as likely to have a heart attack if their diet was low in fruits and vegetables. But according to Dr. Sonia Anand, one of the study's co-authors, ″We found that among those with the high-risk genotype, if they consumed a diet high in vegetables and fruits, their risk for heart attack did not increase despite their having a high-risk gene profile.″

Scientists are not sure of the exact mechanism of this beneficial effect; it may be that something in the fruits and vegetables changes the way certain genes are expressed. But however it happens, it's good news to know that, even if you can't change what was passed on to you genetically, you can modify for the better how your inheritance is expressed by adding lots of fruits and veggies to your plate. And what better way to do that than by growing your own?

To read the entire article, go to Time Magazine.

Watermelon Wonders

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Here's more good news about keeping your heart healthy, especially for gardeners. A recent study by researchers at the University of Kentucky showed that eating watermelon reduced plasma cholesterol and the development of atherosclerosis or clogged arteries in mice.

According to an October 27, 2011 article on the Science Daily website, mice with diet-induced high cholesterol were given either water or watermelon juice to drink. After eight weeks the watermelon juice sippers had lower fat levels, lower cholesterol levels, and statistically significant reductions in the build-up of atherosclerotic plaques in their arteries.

Noting the multiple health benefits to the mice, lead investigator Dr. Sibu Saha hopes that the findings will point the way to heart health benefits for humans as well. ″Our ultimate goal is to identify bioactive compounds that would improve human health,″ he says.

In the meantime, the National Watermelon Promotion Board notes that these fruits are tops among fresh fruits and vegetables in the healthful antioxidant lycopene, as well as a good source of Vitamins A, B6, and C, and potassium. Watermelon smoothies, anyone?

To read the entire article on the research, go to: Science Daily. To find out more about the health and nutrition benefits of watermelons, along with some tasty recipes, go to: National Watermelon Promotion Board.

Spoiled Rotten?

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All those fruits and vegetables won't do our bodies any good if they spoil before we actually eat them. While produce picked fresh from the garden is best in taste and nutrients, we can't always eat that ″close to the soil.″ Whether homegrown or purchased at the market, we often need to store veggies and fruits before eating.

But according to Vegetarian Times, Americans end up tossing about a quarter of the produce they buy, wasting not only money but nutrients in their diets. That's why Vegetarian Times has compiled a handy on-line guide that tells the best ways to store fruits and vegetables to maintain their good eating quality. Did you know apples release ethylene, a gas that speeds ripening? If you put your spinach or kale in the same refrigerator bin with apples, the greens will go limp and yellow in just a few days.

And while refrigeration helps extend the life of much produce, sealing it in airtight bags suffocates it and promotes decay, according to Barry Swanson, a food scientist at Washington State University.

For once-a-week, weekend shoppers, there is even a helpful listing of what to eat first to make it to the next market day without waste. For example, on Sunday through Tuesday, eat your bananas, broccoli, and strawberries; Wednesday through Friday serve up eggplant, grapes, and pineapples; and save keepers like bell peppers, cauliflower and oranges until the following weekend.

To read more about how to store fruits and vegetables, go to Vegetarian Times.

Fresh, Local, and Purple for Health

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Potatoes sometimes get a bad rap nutritionally of late. But when they are not fried in buckets of oil or mashed with gobs of butter and cream, they are actually quite healthful veggies. They are a rich source of cancer-fighting antioxidants, especially red and purple-fleshed varieties.

And according to a recent Colorado State University study that evaluated the effect of storage on the antioxidants and anti-cancer properties of colored potatoes, the closer potatoes are consumed to the time of their harvest, the higher the levels of these healthful compounds they contain.

For the most benefit, purple and red-fleshed potatoes are the way to go. In fact, red and purple potatoes that have not been stored for long periods can deliver antioxidants on par with blueberries and grapes. One half of a recently harvested, baked purple potato has as many colon-cancer fighting compounds as three and a half recently harvested white potatoes, 600 potato chips, 45 blueberries, or 25 grapes, the study found.

According to Jairam Vanamala, researcher and professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at CSU, shopping for locally grown, in-season, red or purple potatoes is the way to get maximum health benefits from these vegetables. And of course, you can't get much fresher than potatoes dug from your own home garden!

To read more about this research, go to Colorado State University. For mail-order sources of red and purple seed potatoes, check out Maine Potato Lady or Potato Garden.

 
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