Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

228 Healthy Gardening, Healthy Foods

September 13, 2022 Fred Hoffman Season 3 Episode 228
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
228 Healthy Gardening, Healthy Foods
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Why is gardening so healthy for you? We explore that today with Dr. Laura Varich of, who explains the health benefits of gardening, and the healthier benefits of eating what you grow. And that includes some health benefits you may not be aware of, including breathing in and touching the soil itself.  We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory. It’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots.

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GB 228 Healthy Gardening, Healthy Foods TRANSCRIPT

Farmer Fred  0:00  

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by Smart Pots, the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. It's made in the USA. Visit slash Fred for more information and a special discount, that's

Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information, you've come to the right spot.

Farmer Fred  0:31  

Why is gardening so healthy for you? We explore that today with Dr. Laura Varich of, who explains the health benefits of gardening, and the healthier benefits of eating what you grow. And that includes some health benefits you may not be aware of, including breathing in and touching the soil itself. As we say so often on this program, the healthiest food you can eat is the food you grow yourself. Today, we find out more about how to garden your way to better health.

We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory. It’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots. And we will do it all in about 40 minutes. Let’s go!


Healthy Gardening, Healthy Foods, Part 1

Farmer Fred  1:21  

If you listen to this show for any length of time, you know that one of my founding principles is you grew it now eat it. And the other founding principle of course: it all begins with healthy soil . because the healthiest food you can eat is the food you grow yourself. And the healthiest food you can grow comes from the healthiest soil. Today we're going to concentrate more on “you grew it now eat it”, and it's going to help you be a lot healthier. We are talking with the fresh physician, Dr. Laura Varich. Born and raised in California, now in Florida. She practiced Pediatric Radiology at Stanford University for 10 years, and then down in Florida. But she started noticing things and she is now on a different path to make you healthier by what you eat. And Dr. Laura Varich, it's a pleasure to have you here on the program. Tell us about the switch. Why would you go from radiology into what you're doing now?

Dr. Laura Varich  2:14  

Hey, Fred's so, so great to be here. Thank you so much. I've been a fan of the podcast and the newsletter now for a long time. And I'm just so pleased to be able to talk to your listeners a little bit today and to you. So yeah, the path for me was really an interesting one, I was doing pediatric radiology for about 20 years. And then I really, in the last 10 years, started to notice, and this is all in the same population, because I've been in Florida for 12 years, started to notice that really, the health of children has changed a lot. And it's been over a pretty short time. And we're seeing just so much chronic disease in kids now, you know, things we never saw before, like type two diabetes and fatty liver disease. And of course, we have a lot of obesity, and even autoimmune diseases, all kinds of things really escalating in the pediatric population. So I thought I need to figure out what's going on here. Because if we've made these changes so recently, if this has been happening,  we have to be able to turn them around. So when I looked into the research, I could not believe what I read, because as physicians, we don't train in nutrition, really at all. So what I read just astounded me and I thought, well, this is it. This is my life calling, I've got to get this information out to people. So I left my practice. And now I just try to speak and get the word out that it is our food. It is our food that is primarily responsible for the chronic disease that we have in our country.

Farmer Fred  3:42  

We've known about this for a long time. it goes back to people who were on television back in the 1950s. People like Jack Lalane, or Gypsy Boots, who were basically saying you are what you eat. I remember Jack LaLane, the exercise fanatic, who would lead you through morning exercises every morning of the week, and he would say the best food is in your garbage disposal, because we're throwing away some of the best parts of the food we eat. And he was very right about that. But going back to your story, and you mentioned something interesting, and I'm wondering about it, and that is the amount of nutritional training that doctors actually receive. I've talked with old doctors who basically said, “Yeah, I think we have we have one unit on that back in med school”. And that was it. I would hope since then it's improved.

Dr. Laura Varich  4:31  

Well, you know, it actually is improving. And I think it's the realization that the food is what has put us in the the health crisis that we're in now. And so it is becoming a part of medical training, not everywhere. But I know here in central Florida at the University of Central Florida there is a culinary medicine program , so students aren't medical students are actually learning a lot about how food actually is medicine and you're right, those thoughts date back to antiquity. Let thy food be thy name. Medicine and such. So, you know, it turns out that that is absolutely true. So no, it's changing a bit isn't changing everywhere, it's going to take some time. But yeah, in our day, we learned about things like the only our nutrition really was about if you have a severe deficiency in something like if you if you have scurvy, what does that mean? You know, we don't see scurvy. That's not what we're talking about. So this is about how really important food is just for overall health and prevention of these chronic diseases.

Farmer Fred  5:28  

And you mentioned that a lot, you talk about a lot in your newsletter that people can subscribe to for free at fresh And in your last newsletter, you talked about protein and fiber, and how we've kind of overdosed on protein. And we've short circuited fiber. The good news, to bring this back to gardening, is you can grow a lot of protein and fiber in your backyard.

Dr. Laura Varich  5:49  

Yes, absolutely. And I think a really interesting thing there is that we in America are really obsessed, totally obsessed with protein and getting more protein. And this is coming out of the media, because we get about twice the amount of protein that we need in our diet, and we are the highest in meat consumption around the world. So yeah, we definitely are not protein deficient and you talk to any physician, they'll tell you, they've never seen a protein deficiency in our country. So that is not a problem. And we don't need to be adding excess protein, it's actually not great for us. And if we think about protein, we think about usually we think about meat when we think about protein or animal products as having a lot of protein. But it turns out that there are plenty of plant foods that have a lot of protein too. And they don't come with the side effects that we get, the bad side effects, from eating too many animal foods, because they don't have saturated fat, a lot of saturated fat, they don't have cholesterol in them. They  aren't raised with a lot of hormones that are going to get into our system. And so when we eat protein that comes from plant foods, we're actually eating a much healthier plant package. And some of the healthiest plant based proteins are out there. Whole grains are one of those for sure. Tons of protein in whole grains, it's probably one of the highest sources, we usually also think about beans, beans themselves, like shelling beans are great sources of protein. And we can grow these in our garden. I'm growing right now some edamame, and some cow peas or field peas. And yeah, we can grow these in our garden and get lots of lots of protein that way. So yeah, the protein is important. And you know when again, when we think about the plant proteins, they come with positive side effects. And one of those, like you mentioned is fiber. And we're just discovering how important fiber is.  fiber only comes from plant foods. fiber, the majority of it, comes from the cell wall of the plant cell. So I know Debbie Flower could help us out with this. But so the fiber is part of  the cellulose that comes from a cell wall. And you know, animals don't have a cell wall, animal cells if we remember back to biology. But this fiber that we used to think was just about being roughage and clearing out our bowels, and that it didn't really do anything, it just passed right through us. But in recent years, and I know you know something about this, Fred, is we've discovered soluble fiber. So there is this fiber, a type of fiber in our plant foods, that can actually make a gel in our intestines, and it carries out things like it binds to and carries out things like cholesterol, and even sugars. So it can help decrease heart disease and type two diabetes by getting this soluble fiber and again, it is only from plant foods. So we get protein, but we get fiber along with it. And then one of the really interesting things, research is really exciting in this area right now is about our microbiome. And some of your listeners may have heard about that. They're basically trillions of bacteria in our intestine, and why are they there? Why would as humans, why would we have trillions of bacteria in our intestine, that's more cells, bacterial cells than our cells of our own body. And the reason is because we have a symbiotic relationship. There's another another term back from biology class, but we share things, we give each other things. So we give these bacteria our home, our body, and we give them food, this fiber from our plant foods, and they in turn, break that fiber down and give us a whole bunch of healthy chemicals, chemicals for our health, we would not have those bacteria there if they were not providing us something. And the things that they give us back are things like a particular element, a particular nutrient called short chain fatty acids. and we know that these are the healthiest chemicals ever described, to fight disease, and again, only comes from plant foods. the fiber in them is broken down by these bacteria and they make these short chain fatty acids that protect us against diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and on and on. And I think one of the most interesting things to know in an age in which We're all feeling anxious and depressed that's becoming kind of epidemic, is that those bacteria in our gut actually make when they break down a fiber, but they make up 95% of the serotonin in our bodies. Now serotonin, we use as an antidepressant people can take it, but it is a hormone in our body. It's called the feel good hormone. It protects us against depression, and anxiety, and 95% of what's in our body comes from our gut from those bacteria breaking down that fiber. So we can see how that fiber is so important. So yeah, we can get our protein. But let's get the fiber with it.

Farmer Fred  10:39  

Yeah, I think people are lucky if they're getting 15 grams of fiber per day in their diet, when it really should be double that, about 30 or so. when it comes to what bacteria in your gut are doing with the fiber, are they using the insoluble fiber or the soluble fiber? 

Dr. Laura Varich  10:55  

Well, I think it's both, they are breaking down some of both, from what I know, that is not extremely clear as to what it is. But the good news is, it's usually in most of the foods we're eating. Both of those are present. You know, anytime we're eating plant foods, we're getting some soluble and some insoluble fiber. But either way, our gut bacteria are extremely happy when we do that. And the interesting thing is that even for people who haven't in the past eaten a lot of plant foods, and maybe their gut bacteria are all wrong, because if we eat the wrong foods, if we eat a lot of ultra processed foods and a lot of animal foods, we actually get a change in the bacteria. And this can happen within a few days, we start to get these different bacterial species, and they actually create harmful chemicals. So we know now, this is a part of the reason why having too many Ultra processed foods and too many animal foods makes us sick. These bacteria produce things like hydrogen sulfide, I don't think we want that in our gut, right. And again, these can be changed really quickly. So if we start eating more plant foods, or bacteria change over within a few days, two weeks, and suddenly we have these good bacteria that can pump out these healthy chemicals.

Farmer Fred  12:05  

There are a lot of high fiber foods that one can grow in their backyard, you mentioned a few of them. But as far as soluble fiber goes and we've seen, as you mentioned, a lot of medical research on soluble fiber that shows that soluble fiber can help you out in a lot of situations, be it for heart disease, diabetes, and it can lower blood pressure as well. It really is something that we have to consider. You also mentioned something about whole grain. And back when I had my little heart incident back in 2012, I'm so glad that there was a cardiac rehabilitation course that went along with the surgery, because I learned more about food in that cardiac rehabilitation class than I've learned anyplace else. And they basically just talked about healthier substitutes for the junk you're eating. And we talked about bread. And most people shop for bread in the bread aisle when they should be in the freezer aisle, because that's where you're going to find the true whole grain. And boy, that phrase gets tossed around a lot, whole grain, but you really want that entire kernel in place or that entire whatever it's called in place for the most fiber. And really, if you just make one change like that, that can help a lot just instead of shopping for bread in the bread aisle, go over to the freezer aisle and look for frozen bread, healthy frozen bread. There's a lot of good labels out there. Obviously, if it's in the freezer, that means it's alive. And it has a limited lifespan, whereas the foods on the shelf have a very limited lifespan, too. Oh, you got me going now. Dr. Laura Varich.

Dr. Laura Varich  13:46  

Oh, I love it. I love it. Yeah, you're so right, you know, whole grains. If when we when we talk about whole grains, really the difference between a whole grain and a processed grain, which is what we eat pretty much in America is probably over 90% of what we eat are these highly processed and refined grains. And what that means is yes, you've taken off the outside layer, which is the bran layer, that's the fiber. And you've also taken off the layer called the endosperm, which is where the nutrients lie. And what you're left with is basically just pure carbohydrate. So when we're eating things like white bread, and even those ones that are called whole wheat bread, we have to be careful sometimes it's just it's still a lot of the elements are missing. But yeah,  there's so many whole grains now it's so interesting, and yes, you can grow lots of them in your garden, but lots of them out there, you're gonna start seeing them all over the place because we're realizing that really if we can get more whole grains in our diet, that fiber is so so protective for us and again, it has a lot of protein too. So we've had you know, I've been introducing to people to things like sorghum and millet. And obviously we have quinoa and one of my favorites is oat groats, and, buckwheat. I mean,  the list goes on and on. The whole grains that are out there that I agree, if we can just make these small, small minute changes,  they're life changing.

Farmer Fred  15:06  

Among the high soluble fiber foods you can grow in your garden are artichokes, blueberries, beans, as you mentioned, but also pinto beans, apricot, green peas, kidney beans, raisins which  would be dried grapes. if you if you live in a climate where you can grow an avocado tree, go for it. avocados are high in soluble fiber as are carrots, eggplant, oranges, pears, peaches and the list goes on. We'll have that list in the show notes. It'll be a link to the “heart healthy garden” that you'll see in the show notes that can help you out if you're planning your garden. 

Farmer Fred  15:37  

Let's take a break. we're talking with Dr. Laura Varich of . More coming up on Garden Basics with Farmer Fred. 


Farmer Fred  15:49  

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Healthy Gardening, Healthy Foods, Part 2

Farmer Fred  17:44  

Let's get back to our conversation about the freshest food you can eat is the food you grow yourself, and how good it is for you. We're talking with Dr. Laura Varich from And  we're coming up to fall garden season, Dr. Laura, and I think the crops that you grow in the fall, the green leafy vegetables, are some of the healthiest vegetables that you can grow.

Dr. Laura Varich  18:10  

Absolutely. That is true. The green leafy vegetables, we are going to be you and I are going to be talking more about phytonutrients in the future. But phytonutrients one of the ways we can tell where phytonutrients are is by the flavor of foods. And it turns out that and actually in the color too, we're going to talk about that. But it turns out that the greens that the really kind of dark greens that we can get are extremely healthy for us, obviously they have fiber in them. But they also have are some of the  highest levels of phytonutrients. These are plant chemicals that are good for our health. There's some of the highest levels out there. So yeah, I say and I think there's some of the easiest things to grow. I don't know about you, Fred, but I think greens are pretty easy. And I'm kind of a confessed lazy gardener. So I like to put stuff in and then then I want to go out and pick it and eat it. I don't want to have to do too much. So greens are one of the ones you can do that with.

Farmer Fred  19:04  

especially the loose leaf greens too, that are much healthier than the head lettuce types.

Dr. Laura Varich  19:09  

Exactly. Yeah, yeah, more exposure to the sun means the plant is having to work harder, and it's going to be making more phytonutrients.

Farmer Fred  19:19  

we should point out to that at your website , You have a whole section on gardening because you want people out in the garden. you want people to be healthier and gardening can do a world a good for you both physically and mentally.

Dr. Laura Varich  19:32  

Absolutely. I think if there is one sort of take-home point to this whole conversation that we're having today, it is that  humans have lived for almost all of our time on this earth, 99.9% of our time on this earth, we’ve lived in a natural environment, and it's only one-100th of a percent of our time has been in our modern surroundings. And really, this is a problem for our health, both mentally and physically. So I think if we can remember that getting back to a more natural way of living is key to our health. And gardening really does that for us. gardening brings us all the most important elements that we're missing in this modern world that make us stressed out and unhealthy. Because in the garden, we find healthy food, right. And like you said, if you grow it, you eat it, and it's the healthiest food, because we've picked it fresh. So healthy food is super important. Also, we're getting a lot of exercise out there in the garden, the amount of exercise recommended is, as a minimum is 30 minutes, five days a week of moderate exercise. And we get that in our garden, it's shown that gardeners get that amount of exercise. And the good news is, it's fun. At the same time. I know when I get out in the garden, I think, Oh, I'm just gonna go 10 minutes, pick a few weeds, you know, and three hours later, I'm still out there. And  I've hauled a bunch of mulch, and I've raked some things up. And I've  replanted some plants. And it's just because it's fun and engaging. And we have something to show for it. At the end, we've got great food and a beautiful garden. And so the exercise comes naturally and easily. And it's been shown that this kind of exercise is as good for us as going to the gym is. But who likes the gym?  when you go to the gym, you don't get this third component, which is the exposure to the natural world, that improves our mood. It's so important. I know, we all feel this as gardeners, we don't have to have research that shows us. But there is research out there that shows that when we step out into our gardens into the natural world, we decrease our anxiety levels, we decrease depression, our blood pressure goes down, our heart rate goes down, we as humans are connected to this earth. And when we step out into nature and get our hands in the dirt, and our feet in the grass, that is when we are at a really healthy place, mentally particularly. And there was this really interesting thing that I don't know if you heard about this, Fred, that came out in the literature was about mood and gardening. It was that there is a particular type of bacteria that was discovered in the soil called mycobacterium vaccae, and this bacteria in the soil, if we eat it, or we breathe it in, that it actually triggers the release of serotonin in our body, that's the same happy hormone that we have. So there's another reason why when we work out in the soil, we actually feel good.

Farmer Fred  22:45  

it makes sense. And just like some forms of exercise, I know that I have that same release when I'm riding my bike, it usually hits about mile 17 or so, where I'm just the happiest person in the world.

Dr. Laura Varich  22:57  

Yeah, I know, it feels so good to get our bodies moving. Our bodies weren't meant to sit in buildings all day long, be away from the outside and not be moving and not not be eating healthy, healthy foods. So yeah, you're right, it makes us feel good. And we know it. And now we have lots of research to prove it to as if we needed that. But there it is.

Farmer Fred  23:15  

I remember years and years ago, a local grocery store chain here had a staff nutritionist, and she used to appear in public. I talked to her one time, and this had to be back in, I guess, the 1990s. And she was talking about how colorful food is healthier for you. choose a wide color palette when it comes to choosing your food. And I thought at that time Oh, that's interesting. But you know, time has proven that out. that actually colorful foods are better for you.

Dr. Laura Varich  23:46  

Yeah. Oh, so true. So true. Yeah, we found out a lot about that. And again, this comes back to those phytonutrients those plant chemicals. So if you think about a plant being out there in the world, the plant is literally rooted in the ground, right. So if a plant has something irritating it, like maybe too much UV light or something trying to chew on it, it can't react in the way that we could. it can't run and hide. So a plant makes chemicals for its protection. And some of those chemicals we talked about a little bit that the bitterness in food is some of those vital chemicals. It's a way to tell that the phytochemicals are in the food is things that are really strongly flavored, but also things that are really strongly colored that is protection against the UV light.  say you get a lettuce, maybe a red leaf lettuce, where it has a bright or dark red tip on the lettuce. that lettuce has made a lot of phytonutrients and we can look at the colors and foods to tell us that those different foods have lots of different phytonutrients and it turns out there's hundreds to 1000s of these different nutrients in each plant food. we can sort of discern which are in there and how we get a wide variety because that's important to get tried to get a wide variety of these nutrients by eating lots of different colored foods. So we want to find strongly colored foods, dark greens, reds, you know, bright reds and a bright oranges and try to get as many of these different types of foods in our diet as we can.

Farmer Fred  25:20  

There are those gardeners who say, “Oh, why should I plant an apple tree? Because there are apples at the grocery store a year around.” And that's part of the problem, if you want the healthiest food possible. You want the freshest food possible. tell us about how long some of these grocery store vegetables and fruits have been sitting around.

Dr. Laura Varich  25:39  

Yeah, well, that's a really good question. Because if you talk about things like apples and pears, you think about when those are in season, that's usually the fall time, right, but you can get them in your store year round. And why is that? that's because they sit in cold storage for the year. So you're not getting an apple that was just picked for the most part. I mean, you might be but if you do that's coming from the southern hemisphere, which is traveling a long way to get to you. But otherwise, it is an apple that's been sitting in cold storage, and it can be there for a year. And we also know that when we first pick our food, that we have so much more nutrition in that food, as compared to say, even if we're getting food at the grocery store. California delivers most of the food around the country, you guys give us most of our food. And so even here in Florida, a lot of our produce is coming from California. And that can mean it's actually been  up to 17 days, since it was picked before somebody like me here in Florida will, will actually be eating it. And that was a study that came out of UC Davis, that showed how many days it takes in transit, that it sits in distribution centers, and then it sits on the store shelf, and then it sits in your home and then you finally eat it. So 17 days, and that's a long time. And what they've shown is that in that amount of time, you can lose up to 60% of the vitamin C in there. And for things like broccoli, you lose 80%, of what's called sulforaphane. And that's the anti cancer agent in broccoli, you lose 80% of it in that time period. So it's really good to try to get food as fresh as you can. So you're right. If you even though you could grow it, I mean, you could buy it at your store, I could go in and buy a head of broccoli today. But if I picked the broccoli off of my plant and brought it in, it has a huge amount more nutrition in it. The longer it takes, the more that that has degraded. So yeah, I say grow everything that you can in your area.

Farmer Fred  27:32  

Oh, exactly. And it'll be in season, which helps the nutrition as opposed to something that like you say was grown as much as a year ago or so (such as apples). We are fortunate here in California to actually have first dibs on the products that were picked. Also the rise of farmers markets. And I'm so glad to see that out here, especially for people who can't garden or are looking for specialty items that are in season, they can usually find them at a farmers market. and there's a very active Farmers Market program here in California. Most locales have a farmers market at least once a week, if not more often. And I would hope that that the Farmers Market program is spreading across the country.

Dr. Laura Varich  28:14  

Yeah, I sure hope so too. I have to say when I come back and visit family in California, I'm always jealous about the the amount and variety of food at your farmers market because of course again, you guys grow so much of our food for the country. But we do have farmers markets out in Florida too. If we're getting things that are in season though our seasons will be a little bit different and we usually don't have quite the variety that you guys have. But yeah, I think farmers market is a great way to get out there. It supports  your community too. it's supporting your local farmers, keeping the money in your own community. It's an amazing thing to do. And of course, like you said, it's more fresh, and so it's going to taste better and it's going to be healthier for us so and plus it's just a fun outing.

Farmer Fred  28:56  

Exactly. like you say, it was probably picked that morning.


Farmer Fred  29:05  

If you listened to our conversation with Dr. Laura Varich from fresh physician dot com about healthy gardening, you heard the term phytonutrients. What are phytonutrients? Not only are they nutrients that protect the plant, they can protect you, too. That’s the topic for Friday’s Beyond the Garden Basics Newsletter and Podcast. Dr. Varich does a deep dive into the phytonutrients in homegrown crops.

Find a subscription link to the newsletter in today’s show notes, or visit our website, Garden Basics dot net, where you can sign up to have the free, Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter and podcast delivered to your inbox each Friday. Also at Garden Basics dot net, you can listen to any of our previous editions of the Garden Basics podcast, as well as read a transcript of the podcast episode you are listening to now. 

For current newsletter subscribers, look for All About Phytonutrients in the next Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter, coming out on the morning of Friday, September 16th, in your email. Take a deeper dive into gardening, with the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter. And it’s free. Find the link in today’s show notes or at garden basics dot net.

Healthy Gardening, Healthy Foods, Part 3

Farmer Fred  30:17  

Let's get back to our conversation with Dr. Laura Varich from about why gardening is so healthy. Gardening is not only good for us, it also instills good habits in our children. Because if you're out gardening, chances are if you've got kids or grandkids, they're going to be right with you.

Dr. Laura Varich  30:38  

Yeah. Isn't that the truth? I think that it sort of harkens back to my story of how I got started. But I really think that an important thing that we need to think about is how to get our kids more involved in healthy food. And a big part of that is growing it. because as you know, Fred, if you get kids out in the garden, and they are helping to grow things, they are going to eat those things. Plus, we all know that the food tastes better when it's fresh, right? There's natural sugars in our plant foods that get degraded really quickly. And the fiber doesn't degrade. Luckily, it doesn't degrade, but a lot of nutrients do. And a lot of the taste ends up kind of getting more starchy. And we lose those natural sugars that make those foods so pleasing. So if we can get out there and grow anything with our kids, they're going to be more inspired to eat those foods. And I think it's just so important, it's going to protect them and protect their health. 

Farmer Fred  31:32  

children big fans of cherry tomatoes, because they're so sweet. And they're just the right size for popping in your mouth. You're a big fan of cherry tomatoes, too.

Dr. Laura Varich  31:42  

I am a big fan. One of the things we know about phytonutrients and plants also is that anytime a plant is in contact with the natural world, it's creating phytonutrients as protection. So again, these plant nutrients that are so good for us. And so actually, the more surface area, the more skin or peel a plant has, or the more compressed its volume, the more nutrients that we're getting. So the smaller the tomatoes are  that you grow, the more nutrients they have. And it can be quite substantial, the difference. And I know this comes as as sort of a disappointment of those people who want to grow those huge beefsteak tomatoes. But you do those just because they're gorgeous, too. And they're still good for you. But if you can, grow these really tiny tomatoes, like I discovered one of the ancestral tomato varieties called a currant tomato, I don't know if you've if you've grown that one, Fred, but it is really delicious. And they're teeny tiny. kids would love those. They're very tiny.They're so good.  And they have  just a ton of phytonutrients.

Farmer Fred  32:45  

you talked about growing the healthiest food possible. And there have been studies that shown, and I'm thinking of a University of Texas study that came up maybe 20 years ago or so, that talked about changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops. what they did was they compared common garden vegetables grown in 1950, their nutritional value, versus the nutritional value in store-bought produce in 1999. And I'm sure it's no surprise to anybody that the changes in nutrition went downward. And they think it's because of cultivated varieties. In 1999, there were more  hybrid varieties, they were basically grown to look good, and ship well. And when you breed foods for those qualities, something's gotta give. and it's usually the nutritional value. And sure enough, of these 43 garden crops, the majority of them showed less nutritional value in 1999 than they did in 1950. And there is an argument right there for growing heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Laura Varich  33:51  

Totally agree. if we could find heirloom or wild type varieties, we are going to have so much more nutritional value because yeah, you just like you said, we started to breed really our crops  for certain flavors. And so a lot of the things in our produce that gave it a lot of nutrition are now missing. So a lot of times we've bred in a lot of sweetness to our plant foods, but we've bred out a lot of the things that make it so helpful. So yeah, I think if you're looking at different kinds of seeds, try to find some great heirloom and wild type varieties.

Farmer Fred  34:26  

The other thing too, and it goes back to your point of how foods protect themselves and increase the benefits for your gut biome. As any gardener knows, when you go out to pick tomatoes or peppers, there's always some cosmetic damage. cosmetic damage you will not see in the grocery store. Does that make grocery store varieties better? No. as a matter of fact, as you point out at your website, that those fruits and vegetables that have those cosmetic issues, maybe a bird took a peck out of it or they got a little sunburn or whatever, they have those scars have made it healthier for you.

Dr. Laura Varich  35:03  

Yeah, isn't that amazing to think about. So there's a couple little aspects here that I think gardeners are going to find really interesting. And one is that yeah, imperfect produce is actually better for us. it means that the plant has had to fight. And so you're not going to find them very often in your grocery store, because like you said, we need them to look perfect, or we're not going to buy them, right. But in our garden, we have imperfect produce all the time. Something chewed on a plant, there's a hole in the leaf. well, you know what?  those are going to be the healthiest leaves we can pick. So yeah, we might have to cut a piece off  or tear a part off. But eat that produce, there's no reason not to. You can cut off something that's a little bit bad. But eat the rest of it, that is good. And again, anything that's been picked on a little bit, it's going to have a lot more nutrition in it. And this actually speaks also to organic produce. And I know probably most of us in our gardens, a lot of us are going to be trying to grow our produce more organically. And it's also been shown that compared to conventional produce, which you know, is a lot of pesticides are used, that organic produce has more nutritional value in it, because again, the plant has had to do some fighting. So it has had to battle bugs. And on its own, it hasn't been fed a lot of fertilizers and sprayed with a lot of pesticides. And so our organic produce actually has a lot more nutrition in it. And you know, it's interesting, because the other thing is, is where that the produce is contacting the outside world. So the skin or the outside portion of that is going to also have the most nutrients in it. So we don't want to peel our food. And a great way to avoid peeling our food is to make sure our foods are organic to start with. So we can just give it a quick wash or scrub. And a lot of nutrition is right there in that peel.

Farmer Fred  36:55  

and storing it to for maximum nutrients. And we'll have a link to a chart produced by UC Davis that goes through most of the fruits and vegetables you'd grow in your backyard. And this chart will tell you whether they should be left out on the counter or in the refrigerator and how long they're good for in either situation.

Dr. Laura Varich  37:15  

So I have one tip that saved me a lot of heartache. And you may do this too, Fred. When we have sprouts of food, like broccoli sprouts. They contain hundreds of times more phytonutrients for its volume than does the mature broccoli. So one thing that has saved me heartache is knowing that these little sprouts are really good for me, when I plant too many seeds and I have to thin them out, I actually will just go out there wait till they're, you know, an entire so pick them off. And I'll either eat them right there, or I will bring them in and throw them into a salad. And I feel like okay, that didn't go to waste because you know how sad it is to have to pull up those little seedlings. And so we can actually eat those, especially if they're from greens, or cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and things like that, and you would never eat the greens of them when they're mature, go ahead and pick those and just eat them.

Farmer Fred  38:13  

And we should point out, too, that if you are limited in your space for gardening, growing microgreens is a great way to get around that because you can do that indoors with a sunny window. And basically you're harvesting them with a pair of scissors when they're maybe an inch or two inches tall. And you can have a garden like that throughout the year.

Dr. Laura Varich  38:33  

Yeah. And it's interesting because I do that with particularly with broccoli seeds and grow broccoli sprouts, sprouts. But yeah, actually, within just a few days, three or four days, you start having them at a height, you can start using them. And so I just kind of keep it on rotation, I keep one coming in and one started out under my grow light and just keep rotating them. But yeah, it is a great way to have really packed nutrient packed food greens at your disposal all the time. It's pretty amazing.

Farmer Fred  39:01  

We'll have a link in today's show notes about growing microgreens. We had that conversation with Master Gardener Gail Pothour a while back. It's very easy to do. And you can do it with a whole host of crops as well, especially your leafy crops. But broccoli. that sounds interesting. that might make it more palatable for kids as well.

Dr. Laura Varich  39:18  

Yeah if you buy broccoli sprouts in the grocery store, they're really they taste very bitter. But when you grow them yourself at home and you're eating them when they're really fresh. They are delicious. Kids do love them. They're really great. They're not even near as better. They're they're really fun.

Farmer Fred  39:34  

Exactly. There's a lot of ways you can be eating healthier and growing. Microgreens is available for anybody with a sunny window. Exactly. So one of your projects now is your website fresh Tell us about the website.

Dr. Laura Varich  39:50  

Yeah, I began this new venture a few years back and I started this this website to have a lot of information on it. So it's a place where people can and get information on things like gardening, but also on a lot of health topics. So I have a lot of information even on specific disease processes and what we know about what the research says about how nutrition can really help us and Fred, you can reverse disease, by changing your diet and your lifestyle. 80% of the disease in our country, the chronic disease, is actually our diet and lifestyle. It's the number one cause. and so we actually can turn these things around. And so I really wanted to create information, documents that people  can use to help them to do that, because there is hope out there. It's never ever too late to change things up. And I also have a video series for people who aren't used to cooking with plant foods. And  certainly people can go on my website, if there's questions about things we've talked about today, or just to reach out and say hello. they can get a hold of me there.

Farmer Fred

and sign up for your newsletter. 

Dr. Laura Varich

Yeah, please do, please do. 

Farmer Fred  41:02  

I do want to put in a word for praise for a green that you can grow year round here in California, despite 100 degree temperatures. It's swiss chard, and it's one of the healthiest greens you can grow. It’s great in salads, great raw, great cooked and very colorful.

Dr. Laura Varich  41:16  

Okay, then I need to put in a plug for a green that I really like that i I'm sure you can grow in California: sweet potato greens. So people when they grow the sweet potatoes, they sort of forget about the fact or don't maybe don't know about the fact that those greens are delicious and nutritious, you can use them basically like spinach. And for us in Florida where we can't grow a lot of things in the mid summer, it's just way too hot. This is one thing that we have, greens growing all summer long on our sweet potato plants. Now, I don't end up with many sweet potatoes because something under the ground is enjoying eating them. But I get all these great greens. And for me, that's the reason to grow them.

Farmer Fred  41:55  

 And since you brought up greens of root crops, the leaves of beets are very edible and very delicious.

Dr. Laura Varich  42:02  

Absolutely, I love those. Yeah. So when you get and this is a great tip to if you're buying produce in the grocery store, and you want the freshest produce of all, and you're looking at root vegetables, get the ones where the tops are still on the root. So get the carrot that has the tops on it, get the beet with the tops on, because what that tells you it was just picked, because these root vegetables similarly can be stored a very long time. But at some point very, very quickly, within a week or two, those tops have to be removed because they start to degrade. So it's a great way to know in the store that this is fresh, and then eat them.

Farmer Fred  42:37  

Gardening just has a whole host of benefits. It's good exercise, you're growing the healthiest food possible. What's not to like about it?

Dr. Laura Varich  42:46  

Absolutely nothing. There's everything to love. 

Farmer Fred  42:49  

Dr. Laura Varich  runs the website, . Check it out. Dr. Laura Varich, thank you so much for a few minutes of your time.

Dr. Laura Varich  42:57  

Thank you so much, Fred, what a pleasure.

Farmer Fred  43:02  

Garden Basics With Farmer Fred comes out every Tuesday and Friday and is brought to you by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Garden Basics is available wherever podcasts are handed out. For more information about the podcast, visit our website, That’s where you can find out about the free, Garden Basics newsletter, Beyond the Basics. And thank you so much for listening.

Healthy Gardening, Healthy Foods
(Cont.) Healthy Gardening, Healthy Foods
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Healthy Gardening Part 2
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Healthy Gardening, Part 3