Summer means fresh garden veggies to bring good taste and good health to the table! Ever wondered which ones are the nutritional stars? Here are the top 10 healthiest vegetables and fruit that you can grow at home—plus advice for growing a healthier garden.
We all want to provide our families with the freshest, most nutritious meals we can and if you are growing your own vegetables you definitely are eating the freshest possible produce you can get.
However, not all vegetables and fruit are rich in nutrition. If you’re growing (or buying) vegetables for health, find out which vegetables and fruit have the most health benefits!
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Top 10 Healthiest Vegetables and Fruit
Note: We are listing common vegetables in the home garden across North America, especially those which don’t take up a lot of space. There are many many more healthy veggies and fruit.
This popular dark green vegetable is a nutrition superstar, high in antioxidants that fight cancer.
A well-known superfood, kale is high in calcium and great for bone health.
Beneficial for: Immune system, anti-inflammatory, bone health, skin and hair health.
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.
3. Garlic and Onions
Garlic is age-cold remedy known to fights colds and viruses and other ailments!
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.
This leafy green is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables! One cup (only 7 calories) provides 16% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin A plus 120% of the DV for vitamin K!
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.
5. Bell Peppers
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: 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.
7. Green Beans
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: 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: 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.
One of the easiest fruits to grow, juicy strawberries are packed with Vitamin C! One serving (half cup) is half of your daily requirement.
Beneficial for: Boosting immunity and a powerful antioxidant
Great source of: Vitamin C, B2, B5, B6, K, copper, magnesium, folate, omega fatty acids, essential fiber
Growing tips: Grow strawberries in the sun with well-draining soil. This plant is a perennial which you can grow year after year! See our Strawberry Plant Page.
More healthy crops
Other healthy garden vegetables are the root veggies, especially carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes (which grow particularly well in the South). There are also many more healthy fruits, from citrus to watermelon, which both need long, warm growing seasons. Finally, don’t forget about legumes (peas, soybeans, cowpeas) if you have the climate for them.
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.
Spring peas, followed by tomatoes.
Mustard greens, followed by green (bush) beans
Early spinach interplanted with/followed by pole beans
Garlic planted with onions, followed by kale, kohlrabi, and/or collards.
Kale and radish, followed by zucchini.
Beets, followed by tomatoes.
Broccoli, followed by sweet peppers.
Healthy Soil is a Big Part of Healthy Crops
Healthy soil is essential for the production of wholesome foods. Pay attention to your soil and be sure that you are replacing all important trace minerals. Your crops will deplete the soil over time and need to be fed!
Also, 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. 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. 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.
Vegetable Varieties Bred for More Nutrition
Another way to boost the nutrition in your garden is to choose varieties that have been bred to have higher levels of phytonutrients. These are the 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.
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.
‘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.
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.
See this video about how to grow nutrient-dense vegetables!
Want to see these nutritious vegetables? Watch our video.