28 May, 2022

“From a few pots of herbs on the doorstep to raised beds of vegetables, growing your own is empowering. It connects you directly with soil and plants, and the seasonal rhythms of nature as well as providing (however small!) nutritious food to support health & well-being.”

Daphne Lambert, from the Green Cusine Trust, shares her passion for growing your own vegetables and how this can help support your health, including reducing your risk of breast cancer.

If you do not have a garden, lots of vegetables and herbs thrive well in pots on a balcony or doorstep, or you could share an allotment, and there are many community food-growing projects you could join.

Today, particularly for those in urban areas, we have lost contact with microbially rich soil and the benefits the connection brings. Recent research concludes that working with healthy soil along with eating the food it produces is crucial in supporting the health of our gut microbiome.

A healthy gut microbiome with a rich diversity of bacteria influences your health in different ways, including helping to ensure hormonal balance. A collection of bacteria in the gut known as the oestrobolome (or estrobolome) metabolises and modulates the body’s circulating oestrogen. As the oestrobolome affects oestrogen levels, it may affect the risk of developing oestrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.

Growing your own vegetables has many health benefits.

When you grow your own food, it’s easy to ensure no pesticides, such as fungicides or herbicides, are used. Many of these chemicals are potential endocrine disruptors (EDCs) that may lead to diseases like breast cancer. In addition, gardening is a great way to exercise in the fresh air, which is an important element in reducing stress. Exercise is known to reduce breast cancer risk, and avoiding stress may also help reduce risk.

Some studies suggest organic crops contain an increased range and volume of naturally occurring compounds known as phytonutrients.  Phytonutrients increase the capacity of plants to withstand external challenges from pests and diseases, and an increasing number of them are known to promote human health and prevent disease.

Polyphenols are a specific group of phytonutrients found in many vegetables and fruits. They are powerful antioxidants that help to keep free radicals under control. Free radicals are formed naturally in the body and play an important role in many normal cellular processes, but at high concentrations, free radicals can be hazardous to the body and may play a role in the development of cancer and other health conditions.

Once consumed, only about 5-10% of polyphenols are directly absorbed in the small intestine, while the rest make their way to the colon, where they act as a prebiotic.

Prebiotics are non-digestible complex carbohydrates fermented by beneficial bacteria in the colon, producing short-chain fatty acids, which support a healthy gut wall, regulate the immune system and provide energy for the host.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed with the choice in seed catalogues, so here are a few suggestions of easy-to-grow, phytonutrient-rich, gut-friendly, immunity-strengthening vegetables and herbs for you to enjoy growing.

Purslane

The succulent, slightly sour and salty leaves of purslane add a crunchy texture to dishes and are a good source of antioxidants, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, calcium, and potassium.  Purslane also contains pectin, a water-soluble fibre that supports gut health, and the leaves contain more alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid – than any other leaf.  7 It is easy to grow, and the perfect cut-and-come-again plant provides fresh, nutritious leaves from May to October.

Runner beans

Runner beans are an easy-to-grow garden staple. They are climbing plants so that they will need some support – garden canes made into a wigwam shape are perfect. You can start runner beans off in pots or plant the seeds straight into their growing site. Harvest the pods about 4 months after sowing when they are still young and tender. Green beans are a good source of potassium, calcium, and magnesium, plus dietary fibre which supports a healthy gut microbiome.

Radish

There are an enormous number of different varieties of radishes in all shapes, sizes, and colours. Easy and quick to grow, the high content of vitamin C, together with phytonutrients, helps to support the immune system and control the development of harmful free radicals. You can use radishes to make delicious kimchi which will have the added benefit of probiotics – beneficial gut bacteria.

Beetroot

Beetroot is usually dark red, but there are also white, golden, and two-tone varieties.  They are extremely nutritious and easy to grow. Because beetroots are high in iron and silicic acids, including them in your diet will assist the regeneration of new blood cells. Both beetroot roots and tops help the liver and gall bladder to function properly. Beetroot is thought to protect against genetic damage, and there is some evidence it may prevent (and help manage) breast cancer. 8

Beetroot can be sown directly into shallow drills in the soil, and while you are waiting to harvest the root, you can include a few of the leaves in salads.

Chard

This slightly bitter vegetable has large, distinctive green leaves and an array of different coloured stalks, depending on the variety. Colours range from white (commonly known as Swiss chard) to yellow, pink, and red. Chard happily grows in dappled shade and doesn’t bolt in hot weather. The leaves can be harvested continuously until a hard freeze. Chard is packed full of minerals and vitamins and is a rich source of various phytonutrients.

Onion

Onions are one of the world’s oldest cultivated plants, having been used as food and medicine for thousands of years. Onions are an excellent source of phytonutrients, including quercetin. Research shows quercetin inhibits cell proliferation and induces apoptosis in breast cancer cells.9  Onions are a good source of biotin, manganese, vitamin B6, B1, copper, vitamin C, phosphorus, potassium, folate, and fibre. You can grow onions from seed, but it’s much easier and quicker to grow them from sets (small onions). Plant these in autumn or spring, 10-15cm apart, in well-prepared, moisture-retentive, fertile soil in full sun.

Globe artichoke

Globe artichokes are magnificent, perennial architectural plants (lasting up to 10 years). You can grow from seed, but buying a plant is probably easier for a first-time grower. Plant in the garden in a sunny position in deep rich fertile soil.

Cynarin, a polyphenol found in globe artichokes, has a long history of use to stimulate bile flow and support the liver.  When liver function is impaired, toxins can build up, detrimentally affecting health. The anti-inflammatory polyphenols quercetin and rutin are also found in globe artichokes. Globe artichokes are a good source of inulin 10 which acts as a prebiotic, feeding beneficial gut bacteria.

Rosemary

Rosemary is a familiar perennial evergreen plant with needle-like leaves. It contains rosmarinic acid, a polyphenol with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial activities. Research has shown that rosmarinic acid may have anticancer effects. 11
You can grow from seed, but much easier to buy a plant to grow in a pot or the garden.

Lemon balm

Lemon balm is a perennial herb related to the mint family. It has lemon-flavoured minty leaves, and its small white flowers attract bees. Key phytonutrients include rosmarinic acid and citral, which helps to reduce stress. Use lemon balm to make a calming tea.
It’s a very easy herb to grow in the garden or a pot.

Oregano

Oregano contains carvacrol, a phytonutrient that may help offset the spread of cancer cells. Easy to grow and beneficial insects love the flowers. It is like a warm sunny position in well-drained soil and will grow happily in a container. Grow from seed or buy a ready-grown plant.

Happy gardening!

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References:

  1. Does Soil Contribute to the Human Gut Microbiome?  www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6780873/
  2. The Intestinal Microbiome and Estrogen Receptor-Positive Female Breast Cancer https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27107051/
  3. Psychological stress and breast cancer incidence: a systematic review https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5808262/
  4. Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20359265/
  5. Benefits of polyphenols on gut microbiota and implications in human health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6770155/
  6. Benefits of polyphenols on gut microbiota and implications in human health https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955286313000946
  7. Brandt K. and Mølgaard JP, 2001, ‘Organic agriculture: does it enhance or reduce the nutritional  value of plant foods?’, Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 81, p 924–931 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jsfa.903
  8. Purslane Weed (Portulaca oleracea): A Prospective Plant Source of Nutrition, Omega-3 Fatty Acid, and Antioxidant Attributes  www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PMC3934766/
  9. Beetroot as a Potential Functional Food for Cancer Chemoprevention, a Narrative Review www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PMC8020175/
  10. Quercetin Inhibits Breast Cancer Stem Cells via Downregulation of Aldehyde Dehydrogenase 1A1 (ALDH1A1), Chemokine Receptor Type 4 (CXCR4), Mucin 1 (MUC1), and Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule (EpCAM)  www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PMC5788241/
  11. A double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study to establish the bifidogenic effect of a very-long-chain inulin extracted from globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) in healthy human subjects pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20591206/
  12. Anticancer potential of rosmarinic acid and its improved production through biotechnological interventions and functional genomics pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30022261/
  13. Carvacrol affects breast cancer cells through TRPM7 mediated cell cycle regulation https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0024320520316477 

 

 



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