If you are a person that loves to grow vegetables and fruits, consider adding some of the following produce to your garden to help you and your family stay healthy and insure you are getting the vitamins that your body needs to boost your immune system, help prevent diseases, and improve overall well-being. Take a look at the list of vitamins below for some facts and information on where you can find them.
Vitamin A is needed for vision in dim light and promotes bone growth and tooth development. It also helps maintain healthy skin, hair, and mucous membranes by replacing the cells that line the mouth and esophagus. While true vitamin A is only found in animal products such as meat, milk, eggs, etc., the human body can produce vitamin A from carotenoids or “provitamins” found in some fruits and vegetables. Some vegetables that contains these carotenoids include sweet potatoes, kale, carrots, sweet red peppers, spinach, and romaine lettuce. While provitamin A is more abundant in vegetables than fruit, some fruit sources include mango, watermelon, and pink or red grapefruit. Here’s a tip to make sure your body gets the most out of these provitamin A sources: Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, which means it is better absorbed by the body when consumed with healthy fat. Roast some sweet potatoes in olive oil or include a serving of almonds the next time you indulge in some watermelon.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) is important in the production of energy by aiding your body in metabolizing carbohydrates and some amino acids. It is also essential for the growth and maintenance of nerve and muscle tissues. Thiamin is also needed for a normal appetite. Deficiency in this vitamin leads to fatigue, nerve disorders, and heart irregularity, to name a few consequences. Thiamin can be found in, though is not limited to, these sources: asparagus, brussel sprouts, eggplant, cabbage, barley, Crimini mushrooms, pineapple, oranges, cantaloupe, and tomatoes.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) promotes normal vision; aids enzymes in metabolizing carbohydrates, proteins, and fats; and promotes growth and tissue repair. Vegetables that have B2 include asparagus, brussel sprouts, shiitake and Crimini mushrooms, bell peppers, green beans, and broccoli. High doses of riboflavin are quickly filtered out by the kidneys and cause very yellow urine.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) is another B vitamin vital to metabolism. It also helps the body maintain normal nervous system functions. A niacin deficiency can result in skin disorders, diarrhea, indigestion, fatigue, and nervous and mental disorders. A healthy amount of niacin in one’s diet can raise HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and lower LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) levels. Niacin can be found in passion fruit, avocados, dates, potatoes, and mushrooms.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) is also important in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. While deficiency is very rare, some consequences include trouble sleeping, impaired coordination, and nausea. Fruits that include pantothenic acid are gooseberries, raspberries, watermelon and many others. Vegetables that contain this vitamin are broccoli, brussel sprouts, butternut squash, corn, mushrooms, potatoes, pumpkin, winter and summer squash, sweet potatoes, to name a few.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) is required for normal red blood cell formation and aids enzymes in metabolizing amino acid, glucose, and fatty acids. Deficiency can lead to depression, muscle weakness, anemia, and kidney stones. Though overdoses can produce some of the same effects, such as muscle weakness. Pyridoxine can be found in bananas, avocados, watermelon, potatoes, brussel sprouts, and most leafy green vegetables.
Vitamin B9 (Folate/Folic Acid) Health-alternatives.com states “Folate and folic acid are both forms of B9. Folate occurs naturally in fresh foods, whereas folic acid is the synthetic form found in supplements. Your body needs folate to produce red blood cells, as well as components of the nervous system. It helps in the formation and creation of DNA and maintaining normal brain function, and is a critical part of spinal fluid. It has also been proven to reduce the risk for an NTD-affected (neural tube defect) pregnancy by 50 to 70 percent. Folic acid is vital for proper cell growth and development of the embryo. That is why it is important for a woman to have enough folate/folic acid in her body both before and during pregnancy.” Fruits that contain B9 are any of the berry family: blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries, strawberries, and loganberries, to name a few. Vegetables that have this vitamin include asparagus, beetroot, broccoli, brussel sprouts, French beans, okra, parsnip, peas, potatoes, spinach, summer and winter squash, and many others.
Vitamin B12 is necessary for normal red blood cell development and aids enzymes in the synthesis of DNA and RNA, which is essential for producing and reproducing healthy cells. It is also required for the synthesis of myelin, which insulates the axons of neurons to enhance their transmission ability. For this reason, vitamin B12 deficiency results in neurological disorders such as nervousness, tingling sensations, and brain degeneration. Vitamin B12 is derived mainly from animal products, which is why many people practicing a vegan diet are at risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency and should consult their doctor about taking a supplement. While vitamin B12 may not be easily accessible in a garden, many foods are fortified with B12 such as some plant milks, soy products, and breakfast cereals. This doesn’t validate consuming an entire box of a sugary breakfast cereal, but when shopping take note of the many different types of cereal are fortified with B12.
Vitamin C does more for your body than speeding up recovery from infections and wounds, though that is important. Vitamin C is necessary for collagen synthesis. Blood vessels, cartilage, and many other tissues contain collagen; easy bruising and bleeding is a result of a lack of vitamin C, causing these structures to weaken. Smokers require more vitamin C to synthesize collagen than non-smokers due to the damage done to their blood vessels. Vitamin C can be found in oranges, lemons, limes, strawberries, cantaloupe, kiwi, mangos, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, potatoes, and green and red peppers.
Vitamin D is needed for calcium and phosphorus metabolism in the body and for their utilization in bone and teeth formation, and muscle and nerve activity. Vitamin D3, a form of vitamin D, is the only vitamin your body can make on its own; it is a result of sun exposure on the skin. Jaundice is a common disease in newborn babies that causes a yellow pigment in the skin due to liver complications, but can be curbed by exposure to sunlight and the production of vitamin D3. If left untreated, vitamin D deficiency in kids can cause weak and deformed bones. In adults, osteoporosis is a result of low vitamin D levels. If tending to your garden doesn’t get you the vitamin D you need, add some maitake, portobello, or chanterelle mushrooms to your lineup as they are a great source of vitamin D. Like vitamin A, vitamin D is fat soluble, so try a portobello mushroom burger with 90% lean beef!
Vitamin E prevents damage to cell membranes in blood cells, lungs, and other tissues and reduces the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). Oxidized LDL cholesterol causes inflammation of arteries that supply blood to tissues and other organs, increasing one’s risk of heart attack or stroke. Vitamin E can be found in sweet potatoes, collard greens, asparagus, and raw spinach. Once again, this is a fat soluble vitamin that can be better absorbed if consumed with healthy fats (try some natural peanut butter and cinnamon on a baked sweet potato– you’re welcome).
Vitamin K plays a critical role in blood clotting and also helps get calcium into your bones for optimal bone health. Vitamin K deficiency is rare, but can be caused by long term use of antibiotics. Fruits that have this vitamin include all berries, plum, pear and grapes. Vegetables include alfalfa, asparagus broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumber, kale, okra, peas spinach, Swiss chard, and cauliflower. This is the last of the four fat soluble vitamins. Cauliflower crust pizza is a fairly popular trend right now, and the fats from the cheese would be perfect for optimal vitamin K absorption.
Improve your quality of life and diversify your diet with these many fruits and vegetables that you can produce yourself. Have fun with them and find new recipes to keep things interesting. As far as encouraging a healthy diet for your children– you’d be surprised at the many recipes you can sneak vegetables in without anyone noticing.
“Nutrition Basics.” Nutrition through the Life Cycle, by Judith E. Brown and Janet S. Isaacs, Fourth ed., Wadsworth, CENGAGE Learning, 2011, pp. 13–21