Be sure to select the most nutrient-dense vegetables to grow in the garden. Not all are created equal! We found vegetable varieties bred specifically for better health, from tomatoes to carrots to zucchini. Bring good taste and good health to your garden and table!
We all want to provide our families with the most nutritious meals we can and if you are growing your own vegetables you definitely are eating the freshest possible produce you can get.
One way to increase the nutritional content of what you grow this summer is to pay attention to your soil and be sure that you are replacing all important trace minerals.
Another way is to grow varieties that have been bred to have higher levels of phytonutrients. What’s that you ask? Phytonutrients are plant chemicals that protect the plants from insects, disease, drought, and other forms of adversity. Some of them, like the antioxidants, have been found to help humans weather adversity as well by strengthening our immune systems, protecting us from cancer, warding off heart disease, lowering cholesterol, and supporting healthy vision. Several universities around the country have plant breeding programs that are looking at ways to increase the healthy antioxidants in different vegetables.
More Nutrient-Dense Vegetables
These vegetable varieties were bred specifically to be more nutritious.
- ‘Valentine’ grape tomato is the result of a collaboration between Penn State and Johnny’s Selected Seeds. It has high levels of lycopene, an antioxidant that reduces LDL cholesterol and lowers blood pressure.
- ‘Heath Kick’ is a red plum tomato that has 50% more lycopene than the average tomato.
- ‘Tasti Lee’ is a 6- to 9-ounce tomato developed at the University of Florida that has 40% more lycopene and is heat tolerant.
- ‘Mighty Sweet’ (below) is a grape tomato with high levels of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and lycopene.
Photo: Mighty Sweet from Burpee
- ‘High Carotene’ is a 3-ounce tomato that has 2 to 3 times more beta-carotene than the average tomato. Beta-carotene protects us against heart disease, viral infections, cataracts, and cancer.
- ‘Power Pops is a small red cherry tomato that has more carotene and lycopene than most other varieties. It grows only 9 to 12 inches tall making perfect for growing in a container or hanging basket. Heathy snacking at your fingertips!
- ‘Caro Rich’ (below) is an 8- to 12-ounce orange-yellow beefsteak tomato with 10 times the beta-carotene of a regular red tomato. It was developed at Perdue and is low acid and resists cracking too.
- ‘Purple Dragon’ carrots have purple skin and a sweet orange core. They also have more lycopene than regular orange carrots. ‘Atomic Red’ is a deep red carrot high in lycopene. Carrots ‘Candysnax’ and ‘Sugarsnax’ were bred to be higher in beta-carotene.
- ‘Adirondack Blue’ potatoes are high in vitamin C and anthocyanins that are strong anti-inflammatories, promote heart health, fight viral diseases, and support cognitive function.
- ‘Violetta’ and ‘Graffiti’ are both purple cauliflowers that have high levels of anthocyanin. They are best eaten raw since the color and potency diminish when cooked.
- ‘Cheddar’ cauliflower develops 8 inch heads in about 70 days and has 25 times the beta-carotene of white cauliflower. Instead of fading, its color deepens when cooked.
- ‘Raven’ zucchini, developed at the University of Wisconsin, has 4 times as much lutein as standard zucchini! Lutein is a great vision protector, preventing cataracts and macular degeneration.
Spotlight on Blue Tomatoes
This brings us to blue tomatoes! That’s a color not found in nature or is it? Actually Dr. Jim Myers of Oregon State University found wild blue tomatoes growing in Peru and the Galapagos Islands that had high levels of anthocyanin, an antioxidant found in foods such as blueberries or red cabbage not in tomatoes. After 12 years of breeding and cross-breeding the blue varieties—which were not very tasty—with red tomatoes, he created a blue tomato with anthocyanin’s disease-fighting properties. They were developed using traditional plant breeding techniques and are not genetically modified.
Photo: ‘Indigo Rose’ tomato from Johnny Seeds
Look for plants with ‘Indigo’ in their name to try one of these. They were bred enough times to be stable and open-pollinated so other breeders have used this line to create their own blue tomatoes. There are now quite a few varieties out there that have varying degrees of “blueness”.
To fully develop the darkest coloration, the fruits need full sun as they ripen. Look for ‘Black Beauty’, ‘Blue Beauty’, or ‘Wagner Blue Green’ which has dark blue skin and bright green flesh.
Natural ripening increases the amount of phytonutrients in any vegetable and makes them more readily absorbed, which is just another good reason to grow your own instead of relying on commercial produce which is picked green before being shipped to the store.
Whether or not you choose to seek out varieties that have been bred to have high nutritional content remember that the most nutritious vegetables are the ones you eat, so grow what you like and fill at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables.