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A plant-based diet is easy when you grow it yourself

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Posted on: August 15, 2022

By Lenora S. Dernoga

The biggest killer in America isn’t smoking, guns or car accidents. It’s heart disease, a ruthless killer that is directly linked to what we eat. Saturated fat found in animal products can lead to heart disease and increase the risk of other serious health problems.

With high obesity rates, pandemic concerns and soaring food prices, many people are seeking a healthier and more affordable lifestyle. A whole-food, plant-based diet has been proven to prevent, treat and even reverse many of our worst health conditions and chronic diseases including diabetes, cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure. It can reduce inflammation, improve gut function and boost the immune system. And plant-based diets are packed with fiber, which keeps you full longer and provides vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.  A plant-based diet can help you lose weight and generally improve your quality of life.

Adopting a plant-based diet is easier than you may think and can be affordable, especially if you grow most of your veggies and fruits in your own backyard.

Donna Koczaja, owner of Green Haven Living in Laurel, supports clients with custom herbal formulations, clinical herbal medicine, and diet and lifestyle recommendations. She is an herbalist, master gardener and plant enthusiast, and she grows a huge amount of veggies and herbs in her home garden for both their fresh flavor and  medicinal value. 

 “During the prime growing season, I use my harvest as a focus for my meals just about every day.  It’s important to eat a good amount and wide variety of veggies,“ Koczaja said.  

Her staple garden veggies include tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and green beans — all good starter crops for beginner gardeners. Leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach and kale are also relatively easy to grow, but they are cool weather crops that should be planted in early spring or fall. Koczaja’s favorite fruits range from cantaloupes to strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.  

“We have a produce crisis in this country in that, according to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control], only one in 10 Americans achieve their recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables,“  Koczaja said. “Planting what you like to eat will inspire you to eat better.” 

    Herbs are a wonderful way to enhance a plant-based diet.  “Herbs add a wide variety of flavors without adding things you don’t want or need, like excessive salt and fat,” Koczaja said. “They offer an abundance of phytochemicals that provide numerous health benefits, like reduced inflammation, antimicrobial properties and even improve cognitive function.”  

Koczaja particularly likes growing peppermint, lemon balm, rosemary, sage, thyme and basil.  “It’s fun to blend several herbs for a desired health benefit such as teas to calm, improve digestion and fortify the immune system,” she said. 

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