When it comes to growing our own food, we often think in terms of yields—how much, how big, how often. Fair enough, but putting the nutritional value of homegrown fruit and vegetables at the fore of a planting plan makes good sense; after all, healthful foods are the goal. Here are the some of the most nutritious vegetables you can grow (and eat!).
A garden rich in nutrients is chock-full of “powerhouse” (the latest buzzword) fruit and vegetables, with watercress, cabbage, and beet greens topping the list. Ideally, such a garden includes one-third leafy greens; one-third colored vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes; and one-third sulfur-rich vegetables, like brassicas and alliums.
Sometimes referred to as a “superfoods garden,” this is one in which you will find produce that provides the ultimate combination of nutrients. There are 17 critical nutrients for optimal health; potassium, calcium folate, and vitamins B12, A, and D are tops among them.
Super Nutritious Vegetables and Fruit
Fresh fruit and vegetables are packed full of nutrients which help to boost health. But not all vegetables and fruit are created equal; some are more nutritious than others. Find out which vegetables and fruit are super high in nutrition.
Beneficial for: Heart health, weight loss, immune system, and healthy eyes, teeth and bones.
Great source of: Vitamins C and A.
Growing tips: Pick zucchini when about 4in long to encourage more fruits to form, or let them grow a little larger for spiralizing as a lower-calorie alternative to pasta.
See how to grow zucchini and squash.
Beneficial for: Reducing cholesterol. See more about why green beans are good for you!
Great source of: Protein, soluble fiber, and flavonoids. Darker beans have high levels of disease-fighting antioxidants.
Growing tips: Sow quick-growing dwarf beans in summer and they’ll be ready to pick in six to eight weeks.
See our Green Bean Growing Guide.
Beneficial for: Immune function, vision, skin and bone health, blood clotting
Great source of: Vitamin K, vitamin A, folate, fiber.
Growing tips: Sow in cool weather as soon as the soil is prepared or in late summer for a fall/winter harvest. Cut while young.
See our growing guide to spinach.
Beneficial for: May help prevent some cancers.
Great source of: Vitamins A, C and E, anti-inflammatory flavonoids, potassium and lycopene. Small red tomatoes contain the highest concentration of lycopene.
Growing tips: Grow in full sun and feed regularly with an organic liquid tomato fertilizer.
See our growing guide to tomatoes.
Beneficial for: May help prevent some cancers.
Great source of: Vitamins C and A, antioxidants and lycopene. Let peppers develop orange or red color for maximum nutrient density.
Growing tips: Grow under cover in cooler areas. Tie to a stake or cane to prevent top-heavy peppers toppling over.
See our growing guide to bell peppers.
Beneficial for: May help to inhibit cancerous cells. Learn more about broccoli’s health benefits.
Great source of: Folate, fiber, calcium, vitamins A and C.
Growing tips: Broccoli needs fertile soil that’s high in nitrogen. Pick the heads while they are still tight and well-filled.
See our growing guide to broccoli.
Beneficial for: Strengthening immune system, preventing infections and improving eye health. May help prevent some cancers. See more about raspberries’ health benefits.
Great source of: Antioxidants, B vitamins and ellagic acid.
Growing tips: Grow summer and autumn-fruiting types to prolong the harvest. Tie the canes into a post and wire system and use an organic mulch.
To grow raspberries, see our Raspberry Plant Page.
Beneficial for: Boosting general health, and may slow the advancement of Alzheimer’s disease.
Great source of: Zinc, copper, vitamins, iron and anthocyanin.
Growing tips: Grow blueberries in full sun in acidic soil, or in ericaceous potting soil in a container. Choose a range of early, mid and late season varieties to extend your harvest.
See our Blueberry Plant Page.
Beneficial for: Boosting immune system, liver health, and can help maintain healthy lungs and stomach. Learn more about garlic’s history of healing.
Great source of: Vitamins including B1 and B6, manganese, calcium and tryptophan. Leave chopped or crushed garlic to sit for 20 minutes before eating to enhance the health benefits further.
Growing tips: Plant garlic in fall for an early summer crop.
See our growing guide to garlic.
Beneficial for: Immune system, inflammation, skin, nails and hair.
Great source of: Fiber, vitamin C, omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, and antioxidants.
Growing tips: Sow in spring then plant out once the young plants are about four inches tall.
See our guide to growing kale.
Sample Garden of Nutrient-Rich Vegetables
A sample garden might consist of two parallel raised beds, divided into sections that allow for succession planting from spring to summer.
For example, here are early spring crops that finish up in time for summer crops to follow up.
1. Spring peas, followed by tomatoes.
2. Mustard greens, followed by green (bush) beans
3. Early spinach interplanted with/followed by pole beans
4. Garlic planted with onions, followed by kale, kohrabi, and/or collards.
5. Kale and radish, followed by zucchini.
6. Beets, followed by tomatoes.
7. Broccoli, followed by sweet peppers.
Bear in mind that there is variation in the vitamin and mineral content of produce, depending on the conditions under which it has been grown. Healthy soil is essential for the production of wholesome foods. Nutrients work in concert with soil life; poor soil fertility means less nutritionally valuable crops. This is why eliminating pesticides and herbicides is important—if the soil contains contaminants, then microorganisms, plants, and ultimately humans will absorb these toxins. Conversely, mineral-rich soil is full of active microbes that support healthful yields.
Remember, too, that bigger zucchini aren’t better zucchini. Relying too heavily on fertilizers—which can deplete the soil of major elements, trace minerals, and organic matter—can result in produce that is impressive in size but lacking in nutrients.
When planning a nutritionally focused garden, begin by sending a soil sample to your local cooperative extension office. They will determine the type of soil that you have and make recommendations for any amendments that may be needed. Choose at least 10 space-efficient, calorie-rich staple crops that return high yields and keep well. Find alternatives to toxic applications and practices—you want to protect (and hopefully enhance) beneficial microbial activity. Adding compost is a good first step.
Once your garden has been planted, spend time observing it to identify any stressors. Keep an eye out for things like wilting foliage; diseases, such as rust or powdery mildew; insect damage, in the form of chewed leaves; or signs of visiting critters rooting around your crops. By monitoring your garden daily, you will discover any issues early on—when remedying the problem is usually easier and most effective.
Bottom-line: Think about not only the plants that you will harvest but also the nutritional value that they will add to the meals you make.
Want to see these nutritious vegetables? Watch our video.
Do you grow these super-nutritious vegetables in your garden? Do you recommend any others?
If you’d like to plan a vegetable garden yourself, try out the Almanac Garden Planner here: https://gardenplanner.almanac.com