/ Food & Drink, Health, Home & Energy

Do you grow your own fruit and veg for health benefits?

Colourful fruit and veg

When it comes to getting my five-a-day, I’m more than happy to believe that I’m reaping health benefits by growing my own, burning calories as I dig, weed and water.

There is even evidence that I’m helping to control my blood pressure as I relax and unwind, until, that is, I see the damage ravaged by slugs and snails.

At the moment I choose what to grow based on taste, the likelihood of getting a good crop and my own personal preferences. I like to eat a wide range of fruit and veg and greatly enjoy how fresh it is. But should I have more of an eye to my health when flicking through the seed catalogues or pushing my trolley round the supermarket?

I already grow garlic and tomatoes to make a zingy pasta sauce, but can it help my family ward off a cold? I love growing beetroot not only for the roots but for the leaves which I wilt like spinach, but should I be more interested in the chance that it may control my blood pressure? Do I boil or microwave my carrots to preserve the most nutrients?

The truth behind the claims

In Which? Gardening we’ve taken an in-depth look at the claims behind the headlines and tried to pick out sensible responses. We examined the ‘five-a-day’ rule and found solid research to suggest the more fruit and veg you eat, the better.

We also asked ourselves whether you should microwave or boil your veg, eat fresh or frozen. This turned out to be much more of a mixed bag as some vegetables are best microwaved as the quick cooking time preserves nutrients, while carrots are healthier when boiled as more carotene is preserved.

As to fresh or frozen, it all comes down to the time from harvest to freezing, how it is packaged and the nature of the crop itself: frozen lettuce, anyone?

However, this still leaves me wondering the best way to put into practice those messages that can be backed up scientifically. What are your favourite ways to get more fruit and veg on your plate? How do you break the habit of shopping for and buying the same things every week?

As a gardener, what are your favourite things to grow? Have you grown anything unusual that you found was delicious and easy to grow?


Our favourite is sweetcorn – picked and cooked straight away before the sugar starts going to starch, eat off the cob – with butter – delicious. It is easy to grow, fairly productive and takes up relatively little space. Start in the greenhouse or a windowsill, plant out after the risk of frost and stake in case it gets windy.

Sweetcorn sounds great – but not on my soil and slope. Any particular type? And what is your soils like …altitude , aspect, how far north …..

Our relatively near term aim is to retire to a decent soil and avoiding floodplain and frost hollows. Of course we are not serious gardeners!!

As to eating more produce I suspect being a gifted or diligent cook means you can ring the changes making many dishes beyond the mundane.

I recently picked up a book on drying produce – in anticipation of the power failures as our generating capacity dwindless and the friendly Russians have accidents with pipelines.!

It’s being cheerful that keeps me going : )

dieselt, I think modern varieties of sweetcorn will grow in most places – we are between the south-east and the midlands on clay, so nothing special. I buy one of the F1 hybrids, and plant out 16 plants in a square around 4′ x 4′ – supposedly aids pollination.

Good luck with finding decent soil – East Anglia is apparently the place for that.

Don’t worry about the Russians – use your deep freeze.

Mel W says:
11 November 2014

For me potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and parsnips are dead easy (and I am no gardener). You can’t beat taking veg straight from the ground and into the pot / oven.

I understand steaming and microwaving is often best in helping to retain vitamins and minerals as boiling veg in large volumes of water makes it easier for these nutrients to leach out and get drained away.

This time of year, one pot coking is a great way to create hearty and healthy meals as you can chuck loads of veg in to bulk them out.

I only ever throw all my veg in a stew, flash fry or steam vegetables and even when I steam them I use the water for stock or gravy so any vitamins leeched are still consumed. Surely those options are better than boiling or microwaving. I read about a study where 2 plants were identical in size and health and kept side by side, one was watered solely with tap water direct from the tap and the other was watered soley with tap watered that had first been microwaved. The one watered with only microwaved water slowly wilted, withered and died despite received the exact same amounts of water as the other, which thrived and was healthy. I can’t vouch for whether this report was valid (I dont have a microwave to try it out myself), however I’m not convinced preservation of any vitamins is worth taking the risk and using a microwave given the controversy over their safety.

Why would you microwaver watering water and to prove what??

Microwaves are good at preserving vitamins in some vegetables but, I believe, not others such as carrots which are better traditionally boiled. New potatoes also soften too much near the skin – unless you only part cook them prior to frying in butter – says Mrs R.

One of my problems gardening is watering – I tend to overwater (in the greenhouse). This year I put in a self-watering system with an electric timer on the tap and trickle devices in each pot. It worked very well and was cheap. Plants did not need as much water as I liked to think.

Thanks for the corn information mr.

Some years ago I put in a watering system using the small micro sprinklers into an elderly neighbours large vegetable garden aswell as the greenhouse. Was very effective especially as she was unmetered for water : )

This saved her the chore of watering and allowed her more pottering about time. As you have noted it also lead to better gauged watering, and if done late in the evening lessened evaporation. Also if you garden is sloped these small amounts of water delivered slowly can avoid run-off.

This summer I had a small patch of ground free and some old carrot seed. The carrot root flies had gone on holiday so I sowed it. Poor germination – only 8 carrots. Dug them up tonight and they were absolutely delicious. They are on next year’s list! I am, in fact, trying to grow some in the greenhouse bed this winter – not being used otherwise and thought it worth a try.

Lessismore says:
23 July 2018

Recently my local supermarket’s carrots have been wonderful – far too good to contemplate cooking them! I haven’t had the land or time to contemplate growing them recently although I have in the past and carrot fly is a pest. Companion planting can be the answer.

Carrot sticks and hummus are a marriage made in heaven and carottes rapees with the current crop wonderful. Carottes rapees was the reason I bought my electric food processor in the 1970s and it is the main reason that I use it.

If I feel that the carrots need to be cooked to go with a dish then I cut them lengthwise and steam them until they are just cooked – probably with steamed broccoli too. You get used to knowing what sizes go together in the steamer. No salt. With the broccoli it is wonderful because you can then eat it when it has just turned colour from bright green to a slightly darker green (you have to catch it) and the florets don’t go all soggy. Otherwise they both lose their flavour. Such a change from school vegetables.

There is a list of companion plants here: