Essential Vitamins and Minerals Found in Vegetable Gardens
By Najet Hamdoun
Having a wide array of vegetables and fruits in every single person or families garden is essential to your health and nutrition. You can achieve a balanced diet from have a balanced garden. Having a balanced diet with micronutrients gathered from what we eat is essential to staying healthy. It is part of a huge network of metabolic, and other bodily reactions that turn what we eat into energy. Fruits and vegetables can provide a wide array of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that are vital to our diet. Here are some of the main and top healthiest vegetables that everyone should have in their garden.
Micronutrients are essential to our body and how our body operates on a daily basis. This contributes to overall health and wellness and how much energy the body holds. Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients, and these come in very small quantities mostly measured by milligram (mg) or micrograms (ug). These vitamins and minerals are essential for the body.
Vitamin A, which could also be considered Retinol, a type of preformed Vitamin A, is essential for vision and protects the eyes against cataracts and blindness. This is done when Vitamin A attaches itself to rhodopsin, a protein within the retina, by supporting the natural function of the cornea and retina. Vitamin A helps with Vitamin D absorptions and bone developments. It can also assist in immune health, and various different cancers. Some of the bodily functions that Vitamin A’s roles is attached to are cell formation and growth, along with maintaining the heart, eyes, lungs, and numerous other organs. Vitamin A found in different vegetables and plants are considered Provitamin A carotenoids which is then directly converted into Vitamin A in the intestine. These chemicals that are converted are considered beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin. A great source of Vitamin A comes from sweet potatoes, which holds a daily value of 156%. Another source of Vitamin A in vegetables are Spinach and Carrots holding a daily value of around 50% for each. Sweet potatoes and carrots are a winter crop, so plant in spring, April to May, right when the ground is warming, in order to harvest later in the year around November and December. Spinach can withstand cooler temperatures without bolting, so plant when the temperature is moderately cool.
Vitamin B1, also known as Thiamin, plays a huge role by helping convert food into energy, and therefore helps the metabolism. This is vital to keep energy levels high and maintained for a balanced lifestyle. Not only does Vitamin B1 help with energy, but also is needed for healthy skin, and nervous system functions. This vitamin helps with the growth and development of functioning cells within the body. The best source of Thiamin in a plant is found in black beans at 33%, which are easy to grow. Plant in the spring when the weather starts to stay stagnantly warm, and grow on trellises. Another great vegetable with 17% Thiamin is Acorn squash. Acorn squash can be grown in mid to late spring or early summer for a fall harvest. The growth time is about 80 to 100 days, so it is important to remember this will be a longer growing process.
Vitamin B2, also known as Riboflavin, also helps convert food into energy, but plays more of a role in assisting to maintain levels of homocysteine in the blood and metabolism. High homocysteine levels can result from eating foods with too many carbohydrates and sugar. There are two different coenzymes that assist Vitamin B2, which are called flavin mononucleotide and flavin adenine dinucleotide. All of these enzymes work together to play an essential role in energy productions, cell growth, development, and metabolism of various different chemicals. Self-reported data collected from 1999 to 2004 shows that Vitamin B2 was 2.3 mg per day higher than non-vegetarians. Information like this can help us understand where exactly are these vitamins coming from within vegetables, fruits, and various other plants. Both Vitamin B1 and B2 aid Vitamin B3, also known as Niacin, in these metabolic functions. Vitamin B3, requires FAD (flavin adenine dinucleotide) which aids and is created along side Vitamin B2. Vegetable wise, spinach has a daily value of 8% Vitamin B2. Mushrooms rank higher in Vitamin B2 at 15%. Mushrooms cannot be appropriately grown in gardens, but with the right time, temperature, and sanification done to bloom the fungi, it can be done in a controlled environment.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
Vitamin B5, also known as Pantothenic Acid, is also produced which aids in the creation of lipids, neurotransimitters, steroid hormones, and hemoglobin within the blood. This vitamin plays a large role in fatty acid synthesis, also known as synthesis of coenzyme A (COA). Avocados, which unfortunately cannot be grown in simple gardens, but more in tropical climates do rank at a daily value of 20%. On the other hand, shiitake mushrooms, which can be grown in a warm grow bag or controlled environment have a daily value of 16%. Lastly, potatoes which can be planted in spring and harvested in the fall, at rank at 14% of the daily value of Vitamin B5.
Vitamin B6, plays a role in over 100 different enzyme reactions within the body. Vitamin B6, is actually six different compounds within the body. These compounds are pyridoxine, pyridoxal, and pyridoxamine, an amino acid group. Many of these enzyme compounds are found in fruits and vegetables in high amounts. Vitamin B6 plays a role in cognitive brain development by synthesizing neurotransmitters and assists Vitamin B2 in maintaining homocysteine levels within the blood. Having balanced levels of Vitamin B6 and other B Vitamins, will help regulate sleep, appetite and overall mood. Potatoes are a great source of Vitamin B6 at 25% of the daily value. Chickpeas are the most abundant source of Vitamin B6 which holds a daily value of 65%. Chickpeas are an amazing crop to have as they also contain a high protein content to vegetable-based diets.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Vitamin B7, also known as Biotin, helps with bone development, and hair. Many people orally take Biotin in their daily “Hair, Skin, and Nail” vitamins to maintain healthy hair, skin, and nail growth. Somewhat similar to Vitamin B5, this vitamin also aids in the breakdown and synthesis of fatty acids. While Vitamin B7 is mostly found eggs and liver, it can also be found in sweet potatoes, at 8%.
Last but certainly not least, Vitamin B12, is crucial to the development of red blood cells, functionality of the central nervous system which connects everything in the human body, and the synthesis of DNA. Vitamin B12, is bound to different proteins within food, which is then freed in the digestion process and absorbed in the stomach. Vitamin B12 can also break down certain Amino Acids, such as homocysteine within the blood to create the essential amino acids methionine. Methionine is crucial for DNA, RNA, proteins and lipids in the body. Ultimately, there are rarely any Vitamin B12 found in fruits or vegetables. It can be found in nutritional yeast if on a vegetable based diet. Other forms can be found in beef liver, clams, or fish like salmon and tuna.
Vitamin C, also known as L-Ascorbic Acid, is an antioxidant that helps protect cells against free radicals, which limits the amount of carcinogens reaching the human body. Vitamin C synthesizes collagen which is important in bones, fat cells, and skin. Not enough collagen could impact the rate of how fast and strong the body heals itself. It is considered one of the most crucial components of connective tissues in the human body. This vitamin drastically helps the immune system, especially when absorbed through plant-based sources. This is because the antioxidant improves nonheme iron, only found in plant-based food sources. Non-heme Iron is iron found in plants that are not attached to a protein. However, it Is still readily available to be absorbed through the body. According to the National Institute of Health, “Epidemiologic evidence suggests that higher consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with lower risk of most types of cancer, perhaps, in part, due to their high Vitamin C content”. Vitamin C has been used in several studies for cancer treatment such as earlier treatments done by Cameron in the 1970’s to later studies done by the Nurses Health Study. One of the easiest summer crops to grow are red peppers, from sweet to spicy, most peppers hold a daily value of over 100% in Vitamin C. Tomatoes, another summer crop, can be grown in a variety of shapes and sizes which hold a Vitamin C content of around 20%. Other forms of Vitamin C come from citrus fruits such as lemon, orange, and lime. These all can be grown in the garden from pots or ingrown. Berries are also a great source of Vitamin C, especially Strawberries, which have a daily value of 54% and can be grown easily in pots or a inground bush.
Vitamin D, also known as Calciferol, is produced when ultraviolet rays from the sun hit the outer layers of the skin on the human body and produce a Vitamin D synthesis reaction. This synthesis first starts during the first hydroxylation process that happens in the liver. The liver converts Vitamin D to 25-hydroxyvitamin D, or calcidiol, and then travels to the kidneys where the second hydroxylation happens. Then the calcidiol synthesizes into its active form called Calcitriol. Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption, supports gut health, and aids in bone production. It can also reduce inflammation in the body which causes aches, pains, water retention, and other health issues. Vitamin D produces and aids osteoplasts and osteoclasts to create strong and healthy bones. Vitamin D insufficiency plays a component in bone disorders in children and adults such as Osteogensis Imperfecta and Osteporosis. Vitamin D is also found in several foods. White button mushrooms are a great source of Vitamin D at a daily value of 46% in less than 1 cup. Studies have shown the mushrooms produce Vitamin D when exposed to UV light much like the human body, and is then able to metabolize Vitamin D to make it bioavailable.
Vitamin E, also known as Alpha-Tocopherol, is an antioxidant that protects hair, skin, and nails. It protects other vitamins such as Vitamin A and fatty lipids from being damaged. It exists in 8 different forms which vary in biological activity. Alpha-tocopherol is the only form of Vitamin E that can be absorbed through the human body. This antioxidant protects the body from free radicals which are damaging to the human body and degrade cells and cell growth. Free radicals are shown to be carcinogenic by destroying DNA however, studies have shown that Vitamin E can prevent this. Vitamin E can be found in various vegetables and legumes. 45% of the daily value of Vitamin E can be found in almonds. Spinach, which can be grown in moderately warm and cool temperatures has a daily value of 13%. Broccoli, which also grows during cooler months, has a Vitamin E content of 8%.
Vitamin K, also known as phylloquinone (Vitamin K1) and menaquinones (vitamin K2), activates proteins in the body and aids in calcium absorption. The proteins that Vitamin K synthesizes are involved in homeostasis, or blood clotting, and bone metabolism. Thankfully, most Vitamin K is found in vegetables such as leafy greens. The human body can absorb most Vitamin K through leafy greens such as Spinach which 1 cup has 121% of the recommended daily serving of Vitamin K. Kale and Broccoli per serving also reach 90% of the daily recommended serving.
Calcium, is the most abundant mineral in the human body making it an essential component to the bones and teeth. Calcium plays a huge role by supporting muscle movement and creates stronger bones. When the body has an appropriate supply of calcium, the blood vessels and muscles are able to remain functional. Calcium aids in the absence of blood clotting, and aids the central nervous system. Calcium is dependent of Vitamin D in order to be absorbed through the gut, so it is important for the body to have both. If the body did not have calcium, bones would not be able to regenerate, repair themselves, and grow, therefore being vital to human beings. Calcium, which is mostly found in different milks ranging from cows to soy, can also be found in spinach, kale, and edamame at approximately range around a daily value of 10%
Chloride, which plays an essential role in the function of the cell, balances fluids within the body, and maintains homeostasis. An imbalance of chloride within the body could cause severe dehydration, along with more severe conditions such as hypoglycemia. Chloride also aids in digestion and a healthy gut.
Chromium, which is found in an abundance of different fruits and vegetables, is a trace element that maintains and promotes insulin activity. It is also possible Chromium can act similar to the effects of an antioxidant. Chromium aids in blood glucose levels, and metabolic and neurological functions. Grapes are an amazing source of Chromium at a daily value of 21% for 2 cups. Grapes can be grown starting in the early spring, such as muscadines, and picked in the late summer. The fruit is a vine and can be grown on different trellises.
Copper, is an essential trace element in the human body and plays a vast role in numerous physiological processes. These processes can include iron metabolism, neurohormone homeostasis, brain development, and maintaining a healthy immune system. Copper assists in the energy production in the body, and the rewiring of neurotransmitters which contributes to a healthy functioning brain. This element can also combat diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Cardiovascular disease. Potatoes, which can be harvested in the fall or winter, are an amazing source of copper. Shiitake mushrooms are another source of copper. Both mushrooms and potatoes have a daily value of around 75%. Other sources of copper are different nuts and legumes such as cashews, chickpeas, and sunflower seeds.
Iodine, another trace element, plays an essential role in the function of the thyroid. Having a properly functioning thyroid is essential to maintaining a proper metabolism. Without this, the human body could develop hypo or hyperthyroidism which will result in the body either gaining or losing weight over a prolonged period of time and can become permanent. Thyroid hormones also regulate protein synthesis and enzymatic activity. Iodine is mostly found in seaweed at 77% daily value and iodized table salt at 51% daily value.
Iron, plays an essential role in the transportation of oxygen throughout red blood cells and muscle cells. It is a component of hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells, which transports the oxygen from the lungs to the tissues of the body. Another protein found in red blood cells called myoglobin, which also has iron as a major component, supports muscle growth and metabolism, and maintains healthy connective tissues in the body. This element is necessary for physical and neurological growth and cell function. Without iron, humans can develop anemia, and other blood or bone diseases. Many plants contain nonheme iron. Different beans and lentils can be grown in the garden to support iron in the body. Forms of white beans hold a daily value of 44% whereas chickpeas and lentils hold around 10% and 17% consecutively. All varieties can be grown in the spring starting into the summer months.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that is required for over 300 biological processes in the body. Magnesium is responsible for proper muscle and nerve functioning, and protein synthesis. It also helps the body maintain glucose levels in the blood and proper blood pressure. Having high blood pressure can increase risk of stroke and heart attack. Magnesium is crucial for energy production starting from the cells. Not only does Magnesium help with bone development and DNA synthesis, but it helps calcium and potassium ion transportation across cells membranes. Inadequate Magnesium supply can result in long term health issues such as cardiovascular disease, and stroke because it increases tension within the blood stream and causes blood pressure to rise. Proper heart health requires Magnesium to be present. Magnesium can be found in a wide array of different nuts and legumes. Pumpkin is an easy squash vegetable that can be grown in the garden. Once the fruit is harvested in the fall, the seeds can be cleaned and then roasted to have a daily value of 37% Magnesium. Potatoes, black beans, cashews, and spinach all contain a daily value of Magnesium over 10%. Chia seeds, which can be easily accessible and also grown to create chia sprouts contain 26% Magnesium and considered to be the healthiest seed for consumption.
Manganese, an essential trace element, is involved in various enzyme reactions, aids amino acids, cholesterol, and glucose levels. It aids in the formation of bones and helps the immune system. Manganese can also play a role homeostasis if taken with Vitamin K. Legumes, which are an amazing source of Magnesium hold a daily value of 22-48%. Pecans, being the highest at 48%, then chickpeas at 39%, spinach at 35%, and lentils at 22%. All of these can be easily grown in the garden. Potatoes and Acorn Squash can also be grown in the garden and range from 10% to 15% in Manganese.
Molybdenum plays an essential role in synthesizing DNA and processing proteins. It is essential in synthesizing enzymes that contain sulfur based amino acids and heterocyclic compounds which include purines and pyrimidines. Too many purines in the body is the leading cause of gout. Gout is an inflammatory disease that effects the bones and muscles by causing inflammatory arthritis around the joints. Purines can be found in alcohol and high sugar content foods. Lima beans and Black-Eyed peas, both of which can be planted in the spring and harvested throughout the year, contain over 100% in the daily value for Molybdenum. Black-eyed peas contain 640% Manganese, and Lima beans contain 231%.
Phosphorus, an essential component of bones, teeth, RNA and DNA, helps build and protect these structures. In phospholipid form, it helps generate ATP, adenine triphosphate, the body’s main source of energy production. Phosphorus also plays in transcription of genes, enzyme activation, and maintaining a normal pH level. Lentils contain the highest nutrient level for Phosphorus at 14% from a plant based diet. Potatoes are another source ranging at 10% daily value. Other legumes and beans also contain mediate levels of Phosphorus.
Potassium, similar to Chloride, balances fluids within the body by moving fluids intracellularly, the opposite of Sodium. It is present in all body tissues and is required for a proper functioning cell. This mineral is needed for proper functioning muscles, by allowing for proper movement, growth, and contractions. Potassium is found in a wide array of fruits and vegetables. Dried Apricots, which hold the highest amount at a daily value of 16%, aren’t as easy to grow in a garden, however grapes are.
Selenium, an antioxidant, helps aid against free radicals, maintains proper function of the thyroid, and synthesizes DNA. It is found in human tissues and skeletal muscles. Selenium can be found in two different forms, inorganic and organic, which are both good forms for dietary purposes. The highest percentage of Selenium can be found in Brazil Nuts. However, with the Brazil Nut industry declining and taking a hit due the deforestation being done by the human population in the Amazonian Rainforest it just isn’t a sustainable or a viable option. Other non-viable options are Halibut, and other fish, however the population of Halibut has been depleted by 90%. Other more sustainable options that can be found on a farmstead or easily viable are eggs. Eggs contain 27% of the daily value of Selenium. Brown Rice, another vegetarian option, contains 35% of the daily value of Selenium. Other vegetables with a lower Selenium content around 10% can be found in spinach, peas, and potatoes.
Sodium, balances fluids extracellularly. It maintains and balances extracellular fluid volume. Extracellular fluid can be found in the blood and interstitial fluid which is all fluid outside of the blood. Sodium and Potassium work together to maintain homeostasis of fluids intra and extracellularly. Sodium helps send nerve impulses and aids in muscle contractions. Sodium also plays a role in maintaining blood pressure. Sodium can be aquired through any type of salt. A good option would be using Himilayan Pink Salt because it has trace elements and minerals such as magnesium and calcium.
Sulfur stabilizes protein structures and contributes to healthy skin, hair and nails. It is needed for the production of proteins, and amino acids which then synthesis them. In order for your body to properly synthesize Methionine, an essential amino acid found in Sulfur, it must be consumed from protein-based sources. It is possible to obtain Methionine in a vegetable based diet. Legumes, nuts, lentils, and especially chickpeas are a great source of sulfur, and are protein based, so they contain the essential amino acid required to synthesize our DNA.
Zinc, is involved in many metabolic functions. It is a catalyst for many enzymatic reactions, and plays a huge role in the function of the immune system. It helps in wound healing, immune repair, cell reproduction, and DNA synthesis. Zinc and Vitamin C can create a partner role by assisting the immune system when under attack by disease. An amazing source of Zinc are found in Pumpkin seeds with a daily value of 20%. Pumpkins can easily be grown in the garden, by planting in late spring, and harvesting in the fall.
All of these Vitamins, minerals, and trace elements are vital to human health. Each play a different role and function in assisting thousands of biological reactions in the human body. Without balance of these, human beings would not be able to survive. Having a balance of these vitamins and minerals can drastically impact a human’s life, and not cause various long term diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, hyperthyroidism, and many more. It is extremely important to maintain levels of all of these compounds which are readily available through plants, vegetables, and fruits. So many studies have shown through repeated digestion of organic fruits and vegetables humans are able to maintain a healthy balance and flora of these vitamins and minerals within the body.