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Fitness, meet food


The Obama’s are doing it, so shouldn’t we do it too? In case you’re in the dark and missed the First Lady digging around on the White House lawn in March, gardening is in the spotlight this year.

CarrotsOf all the reasons to grow your own food, health of the environment and your own body top the list. Veggies are essential for a healthful diet. There’s a common analogy that the body is a lot like a car, you have to give it the right kind of fuel if you want it to run the best. The fuel your body wants is whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and lots of vegetables.

When it comes to eating, the U.S.D.A. tells us to “vary your veggies.” Not only is this a good way to pick the foods for your plate, but this principle can help you decide what to grow.

There are five groups of vegetables, according to Kathy Mellen, a registered dietitian with The University of Iowa. She suggests growing a veggie from each group to fill your diet with a variety of good choices. The groups are green and leafy, orange or deep yellow, dry beans and peas, starchy vegetables and all the other vegetables.

As far as planting goes, there are two types of crops, according to Richard Jauron, a horticulturist for the Iowa State University Extension. Cool season crops grow best in cooler temperatures (around the 60s) and they are hearty enough to withstand a frost. These plants go in the ground first, usually in April, and can be harvested first. This group includes spinach, broccoli, lettuce, peas and turnips.

Warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and melons won’t do well after a frost and thrive in the warmer temperatures. These are the plants to be getting in the ground once all the nasty winter weather has finally decided to subside. The later planting will allow you to enjoy them after the cool-season crops are harvested, meaning not everything will be ready to eat at once.

Another tip to keep you eating well all summer is to plant a couple of different crops of the same plant. Space out the planting by a week or two and enjoy the fruits of your labor a bit longer.

Maintaining a garden is a commitment. It requires weeding, watering, making sure plants are properly supported and more. This work pays off in a couple of ways: all the food you get to enjoy at harvest time and the calories burned from all the activity of gardening! Just a half-hour of gardening can burn almost 160 calories for the average person. Getting a little activity in for some good food is not a bad deal!

Unfortunately, growing a garden isn’t an option for everyone. If you’re into the idea, but lack the space to make it happen, consider a potted garden. Try growing tomatoes, peppers or herbs in a pot.

Potted vegetables generally have a shorter season and ripen at all at once. Look for determinate varieties of your plant of choice, Jauron recommends. These will grow to a shorter height, and thus survive in their smaller space. Also, make sure they can still get enough sunlight, or else the whole plan is a no-go.

Most importantly, grow what you will eat. And if you eat it, your body will thank you.

Check out mypyramid.gov for help with picking the right foods to eat and tailoring a diet plan that’s perfect for you.  Go to www.extension.iastate.edu for all the gardening help you can ask for.

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