Cultivate Heart Health in the Garden

beetrootsFood for thought: the effort you put into your garden can yield benefits far beyond neat hedgerows and a pleasant outlook. Tending the back plot or pottering with containers is said to strengthen the back, calm the nerves, lower blood pressure and fortify the heart. And while gardening is indeed a heart-healthy form of exercise, the rewards reaped from growing things can be compounded just by planting a few, easy-to-maintain fruits and vegetables that have positive effects on blood pressure. A range of common, hardy fruits and vegetables, home-grown and fresh-picked, work symbiotically with toiling in the fresh air to help bring blood pressure levels down, meaning you can manage your hypertension using your very own backyard or balcony.


Here are five easy-to-grow foods that lower blood pressure:

1. Potassium-rich chard

Pretty, delicious chard, known otherwise as perpetual spinach, spinach beet or silver beet, is a nutrient powerhouse packing 961 milligrams of potassium and 150 milligrams of magnesium per cup. Potassium and magnesium work to regulate sodium levels, which in turn helps control hypertension. Easy to grow, chard brings a riot of colour to the garden with red, gold, orange, musk and hot pink stems. Chard is a cut-and-come-again crop, providing fresh greens nearly year-round. New leaves are delicious eaten fresh in salads, the tougher stalks can be cooked separately and eaten like asparagus spears, and sauteed mature leaves are fantastic with pasta, casseroles and other dishes.


2. Low-pressure sweet potato

Sweet potatoes are rich in the same two blood-pressure lowering nutrients, magnesium and potassium, with up to 542 milligrams of potassium in a single, medium, baked potato. Most gardening guides tell you that sweet potatoes only grow in warmer climates, but don’t be discouraged. Thanks to new, hardier cultivars developed for cooler climates, sweet potatoes can now be grown in both open ground and deep containers. Early-maturing varieties are successful in even the chilliest parts of the world, but for bumper crops, try growing them in polytunnels with other root vegetables. Sweet potato ‘slips’ are available in garden centres from April ready to be planted out in warmer months and harvested in autumn. The cooler days of harvest time heralds the season for warming sweet potato classics: fragrant, oven-baked sweet potato chips, buttery sweet potato mash and hearty sweet potato soups.


3. Nothing beets nitrate

A single glass of beetroot juice can lower blood pressure in just hours according to a British study in the American medical journal, Hypertension. Beetroot juice contains nitrate, a gas the body converts into nitric oxide, which then relaxes the blood vessel wall muscles. Effectively, nitrate in the juice produces the same result as a nitrate tablet. Beets are hardy plants tolerating morning frosts as well as long, hot summer days while still giving a good yield. The leaves are delicious eaten fresh; red table beets produce dark purple salad greens in just over thirty days. Beetroot tubers can be juiced for smoothies or roasted whole and eaten as a side, or added to soups and stews.


4. Salt-free seasonings

Reducing salt brings blood pressure down fast, but sacrificing taste is tough. A clever way to cut salt from your diet without losing out on flavour is by creating your own hypertension-friendly seasonings. Toss spoonfuls of fresh or dried herbs from your garden together with spices, and use mix in place of shop-bought, high-sodium seasoning blends. Herbs make very attractive container crops, and most are very easy to grow. Thyme, sage, rosemary and bay are a classic, hardy combination. The plants are attractive and delightfully perfumed; their leaves burst with flavour to suit soups, stocks, meats, pasta dishes and more.


5. Beneficial berries

Blueberries, as well as blackcurrants and raspberries, contain bioactive compounds called anthocyanins, which according to British and American study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011, protect against hypertension. Blueberries are said to be low-maintenance shrubs that produce lots of fruit. In some countries, however, a safer bet may be the underrated blackcurrant, which thrives in harsh winters followed by warm springs, and is thus perfectly suited to the cooler climate. Blackcurrant plants are tolerant of most conditions, extremely easy to grow and given even minimal care, yield for twenty years or more. Tart blackcurrants are divine eaten as a sorbet, jam or crumble. Raspberries also do well in cool conditions, and in combination with blackcurrants provide a wonderfully refreshing summer-fruit blend for drinks, healthy smoothies and indulgent desserts.

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