Backyard Gardening and the Mediterranean Diet

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It’s no secret that what you eat plays a key role in your health, and the quality of your diet can make the difference between feeling weak, worn-out, weary and facing a high risk of disease vs. feeling energetic, enthusiastic, excited and on track for a long, healthy life. Getting into the garden is good for you! In addition to getting more physical activity, eating more food harvested from well cared-for soil can help us all become healthy or stay that way.

“Backyard gardening can inspire you to take an interest in the origins of your food and make better choices about what you put on your plate,” says Dr. Helen Delichatsios, an internist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. “When you grow your own food, you savor it more because of the effort it took to get to the table.”

Growing our own food helps us eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and make personal decisions about what kinds of fertilizers and pesticides come in contact with our food. N.C. Cooperative Extension connects you to resources that have been tested repeatedly so that your decisions can be made on research-based facts.

As we enter this new year, N.C. Cooperative Extension here in Lee County will be sharing a broad spectrum of information from gardening to nutrition to cooking and preparation via instructive articles, Facebook, E-newsletters, as well as hands-on educational classes to help you reach a healthier lifestyle. USDA Nutrition guidelines encourage people to integrate a Mediterranean style “diet” as part of that healthy lifestyle. In this case the dreaded “D-Word” (diet) refers to the food and drink a person consumes daily and the mental and physical circumstances connected to eating.

Unfortunately, many of us experience a falling-off in our learning, memory and problem-solving skills as we age. However, according to the Harvard Medical School, people who follow the Mediterranean diet tend to experience a slower rate of cognitive decline. This style of diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, healthy fats and unprocessed foods. It’s based on good food that tastes delicious, much of which we can enjoy growing ourselves.

Gardening can provide strength and cardio training, increase flexibility, relieve stress and provide nutritious food. With the Mediterranean diet fruit and vegetable selections included into the plan, it is a true “win-win”. While successful gardening isn’t rocket science, it does involve more than just putting seeds in the ground. Choices have to be made. Vegetable gardening consists of selecting a site, planning the garden, preparing the soil, choosing the seeds and plants, planting a crop, and nurturing the plants until they are ready for harvest. Like any other investment, you want a good return. If you put in some time every day or two to nurture the plants and create a “happy home” you can grow a successful vegetable garden. With patience and practice, your skills will improve and so will your health.

So, getting into the garden and following the Mediterranean diet helps keep your body and mind healthy so that you can maintain a healthy, active and independent lifestyle. If you want to know more about what is available through N.C. Cooperative Extension this year, be sure to sign up for our program listserve. Call 919-775-5624 or email

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.