Tag Archives: vegetables

Urban farming can feed surprisingly many people — at least in Sheffield

Using 10% of a city’s green spaces such as gardens and urban parks could provide the fruit and vegetables to feed 15% of the local population, according to a new study.

Gateway Greening Urban Farm, St. Louis, Missouri.
Image via Wikimedia.

Researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield analyzed the potential of urban horticulture in feeding Sheffield citizens by mapping its green and grey spaces.

Domestic gardens, allotments, and suitable public green spaces put together would correspond to 98 square meters per person in Sheffield for growing food. Commercial horticulture across the UK currently uses around 23 square meters per person, the paper adds.

Local produce

Green spaces cover around 45% of the city, which is similar to other cities in the UK. Allotments represent 1.3% of this surface, with domestic gardens, which have immediate potential to start growing food, making up 38%.

Using data from Ordnance Survey and Google Earth, the team showed that a further 15% of the city’s green space (such as parks and roadside verges) could also be converted into community gardens relatively easily.

If all the green areas in Sheffield were to be turned over for food production, the team estimates it could provide fruits and vegetables for approximately 709,000 people per year (that number is, currently, 122% of the city’s population). But even if only 10% of available green space is used to grow food, it could provide for 87,375 people, or 15% of the city’s population. The team explains that this would greatly improve the UK’s food security, by increasing the share of locally-grown food in the economy.

The team also analyzed soil-free farming on flat roofs through means such as hydroponics (plants grown in a nutrient solution), and aquaponics (a system combining fish and plants). Such farms would allow year-round growing of food with minimal lighting requirements, and virtually no ecological impact — the greenhouses would be powered by renewable energy and heat captured from buildings, with rainwater harvesting for irrigation. The 32 hectares of flat roof cover in Sheffield would translate to only half a square meter per local, but the team says it could have a significant impact on local food security.

“At the moment, the UK is utterly dependent on complex international supply chains for the vast majority of our fruit and half of our veg — but our research suggests there is more than enough space to grow what we need on our doorsteps,” says Dr. Jill Edmondson, Environmental Scientist at the University of Sheffield and lead author of the study.

“Even farming a small percentage of available land could transform the health of urban populations, enhance a city’s environment and help build a more resilient food system.”

The paper “The hidden potential of urban horticulture” has been published in the journal Nature Food.

Diet lacking in fruit and vegetables linked to depression

Researchers at the University of Toronto found that a lower intake of fruits and vegetables was associated with a higher incidence of depression in both men and women. The same study also found that middle-aged and older women who immigrated to Canada were more likely to suffer from depression compared to Canadian-born women.

Fruits and vegetables are rich in various minerals and vitamins that are known to reduce the plasma concentrations of C-reactive protein, which is associated with low-grade inflammation.

Important nutrients affect brain chemistry, impacting mood, memory and cognitive function. Take a moment to realize that about 95% of your serotonin — the neurotransmitter that regulates sleep and appetite, but also mediates mood and inhibits pain — is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, which, by the way, is lined with over a hundred million nerve cells.

What’s more, simply eating at regular intervals, regardless of the food you intake, can have a significant impact. Research carried out by the University of Illinois Extension found that eating regular meals and snacks at the same time every day helps keep your blood sugar levels steady, which also helps keep your mood steady.

The researchers analyzed data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study, which involved 27,162 men and women aged 45 to 85 years, of whom 4,739 are immigrants.

The results suggest that men were more likely to experience depression if their diet consisted of high-fat food and lower levels of omega-3 eggs. The low intake of fruits and veggies was linked to depression in both men and women. Additionally, lower grip strength was also associated with depression.

“We were interested to learn that omega-3 polyunsaturated fats were inversely associated with depression among men.” said co-author Yu Lung, a doctoral student at University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW). “Future research is needed to explore the pathways but it is plausible that increased omega-3 fatty acid concentration in the diet may influence central nervous system cell-membrane fluidity, and phospholipid composition, which may alter the structure and function of the embedded proteins and affect serotonin and dopamine neurotransmission.”

The Canadian researchers note that these findings highlight the mind-body connection, where an unhealthy body can cause changes in mood and brain chemistry, and vice-versa. The Canadian researchers found, for instance, that depression was associated with experiencing chronic pain and at least one chronic health condition.

For immigrant women, the study also found a higher likelihood of experiencing depression when compared to Canadian-born women. Interestingly, this connection did not apply to men.

“The older immigrant women in this study may have reported depression as a result of the substantial stress associated with settling in a new country such as having insufficient income, overcoming language barriers, facing discrimination, adapting to a different culture, reduced social support networks, and having their education and work experiences unrecognized,” said Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson, senior author of the paper.

“Although we did not have the data to explore why there was a gender difference, it may be that in these older married couples it was the husband who initiated the immigration process and the wives may not have as much choice about whether or not they wanted to leave their homeland, said co-author Dr. Karen Kobayashi, Associate Dean Research and Graduate Studies in the Faculty of Social Sciences.

The findings, which were published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, could define programs and policies that might help immigrants ease their transition to a new country.

This isn’t the first study to highlight the importance of a healthy diet for mental health. Previously, other research groups showed that eating a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables, fish, and lean meat, is associated with reduced risk of depression

If everyone ate enough veggies, we wouldn’t have enough to go around

If everyone on the globe ate as many vegetables as they should, we wouldn’t have enough of them to go around — but that’s not an excuse to skip your veggies!

Image credits: Michela / Flickr.

For the first time in history, there are more overweight than underweight people on the globe, and unhealthy diets have a lot to do with that. Unhealthy diets, in fact, are a leading cause of disease worldwide — and while eating healthy can be challenging and nutritional science isn’t always clear, one particular bit of advice always comes through: eat more fruits and vegetables.

The World Health Organization says each of us should eat 400 grams of fruits and vegetables per day, but we really don’t — even as not eating enough of these kills millions of people every year. But here’s the kicker: even if we really wanted to, we couldn’t — not all of us, at least.

Low fruit and vegetable consumption is an important and long-running challenge for our modern society, researchers say. It has many interrelated causes, such as insufficient supply, poor access, low affordability, and high levels of waste, and while there has been significant progress in availability, it’s still not enough.

The world produces more than enough calories to meet consumption, so that’s not the issue here. It’s also not about meat consumption since typically, livestock consumes more calories than it offers. Instead, too many people eat poor-quality diets, characterized by “cheap calories, highly processed foods, and overconsumption,” the study reads. All these favor obesity while not offering all the necessary nutrients.

“Current diets are detrimental to both human and planetary health and shifting towards more balanced, predominantly plant-based diets is seen as crucial to improving both,” write the authors of the new Lancet Planetary Health study.

Currently, just 55% of people around the globe live in places with adequate availability of fruits and vegetables, the study concludes — the remaining 3.3 billion people, not so much.

According to realistic projections presented in the study, that figure will drop to 1.5 billion by 2050. There will continue to be insufficient supply — unless food waste is reduced and productivity is substantially improved. For instance, countries such as India or Morocco will produce sufficient fruits and veggies by 2050, whereas several countries in the Americas, Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa won’t.

“We show that even under more optimistic consumer waste scenarios, many countries will probably fail to supply sufficient fruits and vegetables to meet recommended consumption levels,” researchers write.

However, this isn’t a call to eat less fruits and veggies — quite the opposite. Not only are they healthier for you, but they also use up fewer resources than most alternatives. The challenge is to promote a food system that moves “its focus from quantity toward dietary quality and health,” the researchers say,

Less than a third of all Americans have a healthy weight — the vast majority are overweight or obese. Image via Wikipedia.

In order to reach this goal, several actions are needed. For starters, we need to increase investment in fruit and vegetable production. Simultaneously, as this happens, it would be best if societal consumption is shifted more towards fruits and vegetables so that the extra production isn’t wasted. Speaking of waste, food waste is also a massive problem — each and every one of us, along with all stakeholders involved (such as supermarkets and restaurants) need to curb our food waste. We currently waste around a third of all the food we produce, and that’s simply not acceptable if we want to feed the world a healthy diet. New practices need to be put in place to reduce food waste, and researchers also speculate that new technologies can help with that. Lastly, we need to educate people about the importance of healthy diets, and fruits/veggies in particular.

Simply put, we need to produce more vegetables, and we need to convince more people to eat them instead of processed alternatives.

It’s also important to consider the environmental aspects of it. Replacing more meat and processed foods with foods based on fruits and vegetables will make for a healthier society, as well as a healthier planet, reducing not only water consumption and land usage but also greenhouse gas emissions. It’s killing two birds with one stone: ensuring environmental sustainability and providing healthier diets.

Ultimately, researchers conclude:

“Achieving recommended consumption levels will require concentrated efforts across the food system to reorient investments and interventions to prioritise fruits and vegetables more. It will require additional investments in research and development to encourage more fruit and vegetable production, while decreasing its environmental footprint, as well as new processing, storage, and distribution technologies to reduce waste. Targeted fiscal policies such as price supports and procurement policies should also be considered to supplement public awareness efforts to incentivise consumer behaviour change.”

The study was published in The Lancet Planetary Health.

 

Scientists harvest first batch of Antarctic vegetables

These Antarctic vegetables were grown without pesticides, daylight, or even soil — but they look absolutely delicious.

Various vegetables which were harvested from the EDEN-ISS greenhouse at the Neumayer-Station III on Antarctica. Image credits: DLR.

Germany’s southernmost workplace, the Neumayer-Station III, has harvested the first crop of Antarctic vegetables. Biologists report that they’ve successfully grown 3.6 kilograms (8 pounds) of salad greens, 18 cucumbers and 70 radishes grown inside a high-tech greenhouse, as temperatures around the research station were plummeting to -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit).

The plants were grown without soil, in a closed-water circle. No outside lighting was used — instead, researchers optimized and used an LED system. The carbon dioxide cycle was also closely monitored.

While this is a solid crop already, researchers are expecting much more in the future. The German Aerospace Center DLR, which coordinates the project, said that in the coming months, they expect to harvest 4-5 kilograms of fruit and vegetables a week.

Image shows engineer Paul Zabel with fresh salad he harvested in the EDEN-ISS greenhouse at the Neumayer-Station III on Antarctica. The project with — instead of soil — a closed water cycle, optimized lightning and carbon dioxide levels is a test of what may become part of the nutrition program for astronauts in future moon or Mars missions. Image credits: DLR.

NASA has already grown delicious vegetables aboard the International Space Station using a somewhat similar system, but the DLR says that they want to grow a much wider range of fruits and veggies, and they also want to create a more substantial harvest.

A radish before being harvested in the EDEN-ISS greenhouse at the Neumayer-Station III on Antarctica. Image credits: DLR.

If we want to go to other planets, we’ll ultimately have to find a way to sustainably grow food on spaceships, or places like the Moon or Mars. This type of mission will prove instrumental to the success of those missions.

Eating leafy greens every day helps your memory, fights cognitive decline

Want to keep your brain sharp? Eat a lot of greens, researchers suggest.

Leafy greens seem to do wonders for your body and brain. Image via USDA. Photo by Lance Cheung.

As if veggies didn’t have enough benefits to boast, they also prevent the decline of cognitive abilities.

Study author Martha Clare Morris, a professor of nutrition science at Rush Medical College in Chicago and her colleagues, recruited 960 participants of the Memory and Aging Project, aged 58-99 years (average age 81),  not suffering from any type of dementia.

They completed a food frequency questionnaire and based on the results, they were split into five groups.

“My goal every day is to have a big salad,” says Candace Bishop, one of the study participants who ranked highly on the veggie eating scale. “I get those bags of dark, leafy salad mixes.”

The top 20% reported eating an average of 1.3 servings of leafy greens a day, while the bottom fifth ate little or no greens at all. Researchers then proceeded to follow these people for a period of five years, monitoring any potential cognitive decline.

They found that the more greens people ate, the better they were able to maintain their cognitive functions and stay sharp. The correlation carried out for all groups.

Of course, this study established only a correlation, and no causation has been determined. In other words, it might not be the greens themselves that help the brain, but some other, unforeseen element. Researchers adjusted for other factors that might play a role, such as lifestyle, education, and overall health, but there may yet be an unforeseen factor causing the effect. Still, this is consistent with what previous studies reported.

For instance, a 2017 study found that lutein, a carotenoid commonly found in leafy greens and vegetables protects the brain against decay and diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Another study that exclusively included women published in 2006 also reports similar conclusions, and a previous effort from the same team suggested that vitamin K plays a key role.

“Our study identified some very novel associations,” said Morris in 2015, before the work was peer-reviewed. “No other studies have looked at vitamin K in relation to change in cognitive abilities over time, and only a limited number of studies have found some association with lutein.” Other studies have linked folate and beta-carotene intake with slower cognitive decline.

Vitamin E and K, lutein, beta-carotene, and folate have all been proposed as the underlying reason for these benefits. However, it may be not one, but rather the whole cocktail of nutrients that does the magic. Morris says more work is needed to establish this.

While the exact mechanism remains an area of active research, it’s becoming increasingly clear that veggies and leafy greens are good for you in a variety of ways.

The study, Nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables and cognitive decline: Prospective study, was published in  doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000004815

Residents from this homeless shelter support themselves by working in an organic garden

Unfortunately, homelessness is still a major problem in most parts of the world. However, people are trying to fight with more creative solutions, and it has been working out. At a homeless shelter in Atlanta for instance, residents can grow their own vegetables. The shelter has a large rooftop garden that can yield a great amount of healthy greens.

The Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless initiated this program so that homeless people have access to organic food. Now, the shelter residents grow 80 garden beds which produce everything from carrots and chart to potatoes and squash. The benefits of the program are twofold: on one hand, they are growing food for themselves, taking a step towards self-sufficiency; on the other hand, they are developing new skills which can help them get into the labor force easier.

The mass construction of homes ironically brought forth an increase in homelessness. Today, few people are capable of building their own homes. Specialization increases demand and price, and this raised the costs of living – to the point where some people simply can’t afford it. In 2005, an estimated 100 million people worldwide were homeless, and that number has undoubtely grown with the situation in Syria and surroundings. The problem is especially acute in urban areas, both in the developed and developing world.

Personally, I think this is a great idea. We need projects like this to help fight homelessness because whether we like it or not, the problem is growing more and more with no solution in sight.

ugly-carrot

Give ugly veggies and fruits a second chance – they’re just as tasty

ugly-carrot1

According to the United Nations, 20 to 40 percent of fresh food is thrown away by farmers because they don’t look as appetizing as they should to sell. Besides looking a bit crooked, twisted or shrugged, these fruits and vegetables are perfectly edible and taste no different than the perfectly shaped ones you’re always on the lookout for in the supermarket.

eggplant

Acknowledging this dreadful waste, the European Union has started a campaign to raise awareness and convince consumers eating unaesthetic veggies is perfectly fine. To this aim, they’ve teamed up with French retailer Intermarche for a pilot campaign called the “Inglorious Vegetables and Fruits”. Working together with farmers and retail stores, ugly vegetables and fruits were sold with a 30% discount, much to the delight of customers who flocked to the stands, proving they need not much convincing. Everybody seems to be happy: customers get tasty fresh food at a hefty discount, farmers earn more by selling products which would have otherwise been discarded, and retailers can benefit from a greater sales volume. The fresh food pie just got bigger!

grotesque-apple

The little town of Provins, outside Paris, where the first such Intermache experiment was made is not alone. In Portugal,  a food cooperative called Fruta Feia (Ugly Fruit) buys produce too gnarly for supermarkets and sells it to customers, reports the New York Times. A similar initiative is preparing to run in the United Kingdom.

Kids eat 54% more fruits and veggies if recess comes before school lunch

Children nutrition in schools in the US has a big problem – not only are the kids not eating enough fruits and vegetables (which leads to health issues later on in life), but a study has shown that kids waste millions of dollars every day by throwing away the fruits and veggies. Now, a new study has found that a no-cost trick could greatly improve that: just have recess before lunch – not after.

I used to love recess when I was in school; to be honest, it was my favorite thing about school for a long time. Most kids are like that – they can’t wait to get outside and play and talk to their friends. Of course, if you had to choose between playing and eating, most kids would clearly prefer the former; after all, eating is no fun.

“Recess is a pretty big deal for most kids. If you have kids choose between playing and eating their veggies, the time spent playing is going to win most of the time,” said Joe Price, an economics professor at Brigham Young University. “You just don’t want to set the opportunity cost of good behaviors too high.”

In other words, it costs them something – precious play time. Switch around that time, and they will start eating more fruits and veggies. Price is the lead study author and collaborated with Cornell’s David Just for this study. They had three schools in in a Utah school district (grades 1-6) switch to recess before lunch and monitored them. They also monitored normal schools, who stuck to the old schedule.

Image via Harvard.

For four days in spring and nine days in the fall, they measured how much healthy food was wasted by standing next to the trash cans and recording the number of servings of fruits and vegetables that each student consumed or threw away. They also measured whether or not the students actually ate the fruits. After analyzing 22,939 data points, the researchers concluded that in the schools that switched recess to before lunch children ate 54% more fruits and vegetables.

There was also a 45% increase in those eating at least one serving of fruits and vegetables. When this doesn’t happen and kids don’t have a balanced meal at school, their academic performance can drop. This can also lead to excessive snacking which of course can, in time, lead to obesity and a myriad of health related issues. Because moving recess is a no-cost way to make kids healthier and make the school meal program more successful, Price and Just recommend that every school do the switch.

“Increased fruit and vegetable consumption in young children can have positive long term health effects. Additionally, decreasing waste of fruits and vegetables is important for schools and districts that are faced with high costs of offering healthier food choices.”

This is the kind of study which will leave policy makers wondering “Why didn’t I think of this sooner?”.

Journal Reference: Joseph Price, David R. Just. Lunch, recess and nutrition: Responding to time incentives in the cafeteria. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.11.016

Eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduces your risk of death by 42 percent

Image Credits.

Everybody knows (or at least should know) that eating fruits and vegetables is good for you; however, most people underestimate their beneficial effects. A new research has shown that eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduces your risk of death at any point in time by 42 percent compared to eating less than one portion.

This comprehensive study was the first to link fruit and vegetable consumption with all-cause, cancer and heart disease deaths in a nationally-representative population, as well as quantify the benefits per portion. Scientists used the Health Survey for England to study the eating habits of 65,226 people representative of the English population over a period of 12 years, from 2001 and 2013.

They results showed that compared to eating 1 or less portions of fruit and vegetable per day the risk of death by any cause is reduced by 14% by eating one to three portions, 29% for three to five portions, 36% for five to seven portions and 42% for seven or more (the effect started to become negligible after seven portions). A portion (more commonly called a “serving” in the US) is usually around 80g – which is about an apple, or a carrot, or say two cups of spinach. You also don’t have to split them into 7 different times, you could split them into 2 or 3 or 4 meals.

The main argument against this kind of study is also has to compensate for other factors; researchers compensated for participants sex, age, cigarette smoking, social class, Body Mass Index, education, physical activity and alcohol intake – but there is always a little debate with the parameters used to compensate these factors.

The study, which was published in Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, found that fresh vegetables had the biggest effect, and with each daily portion reducing overall risk of death by 16%. Salad contributed to a 13% risk reduction per portion, while fruit had a smaller, but still considerable contribution of 4% (however, this may be caused by canned/frozen fruits, read below for more details).

“We all know that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy, but the size of the effect is staggering,” says Dr Oyinlola Oyebode of UCL’s Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, lead author of the study. “The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age. Vegetables have a larger effect than fruit, but fruit still makes a real difference. If you’re happy to snack on carrots or other vegetables, then that is a great choice but if you fancy something sweeter, a banana or any fruit will also do you good.”

This fits in really well with the Australian recommendations – their ‘Go for 2 + 5’ recommends eating two portions of fruits and five portions of vegetables each day. The UK department of Health recommends ‘5 a day’, while ‘Fruit and Veggies — More Matters’ is the key message in the USA. However, most of Europe typically eats more fruits and vegetables than both of these countries.

“Our study shows that people following Australia’s ‘Go for 2 + 5’ advice will reap huge health benefits,” says Dr Oyebode. “However, people shouldn’t feel daunted by a big target like seven. Whatever your starting point, it is always worth eating more fruit and vegetables. In our study even those eating one to three portions had a significantly lower risk than those eating less than one”

The takeaway message here is not to focus on a specific number; what you should focus on is eating more vegetables and fruits, especially fresh ones. The survey did not distinguish between canned and frozen fruit, and this is also an issue:

“Most canned fruit contains high sugar levels and cheaper varieties are packed in syrup rather than fruit juice,” explains Dr Oyebode. “The negative health impacts of the sugar may well outweigh any benefits. Another possibility is that there are confounding factors that we could not control for, such as poor access to fresh groceries among people who have pre-existing health conditions, hectic lifestyles or who live in deprived areas.”

If they would consider only fresh fruit, the 4% figure would almost certainly go up.

Journal Reference:

  1. Oyinlola Oyebode, Vanessa Gordon-Dseagu, Alice Walker, Jennifer S Mindell.Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England dataJ Epidemiol Community Health, 31 March 2014 DOI: 10.1136/jech-2013-203500

Carrots were originally purple

A purple carrot (or Eastern carrot, as it is also called today) would come as a major surprise for most people nowadays — but before the 17th century, that was pretty much the color carrots had oging on. There were also some yellow and some white varieties, but orange carrots were a rarely seen sight. So how did that change?

At the end of the 16th century, Dutch growers started to do some research and testing, to improve the quality of the vegetables. They took mutant strains of purple carrots as well as yellow and white ones and started experimenting. Gradually, after numerous generations, they got to the sweet variety we see today, which was also more resistant and better tasting than their purple rivals.

It is also believed that the fact that the Netherlands official color was also orange helped promote this variety, but that’s less important.

The Vegetable Improvement Center at Texas A&M University further continued this selection and created carrots with purple skin and orange flesh, rich in cancer-preventing substances and with a high concentration of nutrients. Basically, through careful selective breeding, you can get a whole variety of carrot colors, but even if many people know this, thinking about a purple carrot still boggles the mind.