Updated: Dec 23, 2022
Community gardens offer almost countless advantages for neighborhoods that cultivate them. Some of the general benefits of community gardens include alleviating food insecurity in food deserts, helping to reduce pollution, and building better-connected and more attractive communities. They also provide a great way to get stress relief and healthy physical activity. In addition to all of this, these gardens help to provide the healthiest possible diet: a diet based primarily on whole fruits, vegetables, herbs, and roots, known as a whole food plant-based diet.
A whole food plant-based diet (WFPB) has several long-term health benefits for adults and children alike. It not only helps to prevent or reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some forms of mental illness, but also many different types of cancers. A plant-based diet is especially important for children because it offers essential dietary nutrition that they need for healthy physical and mental development. Here are some of the many plant-based diet benefits for optimal child nutrition.
Fiber is one dietary component that helps to prevent disease. Soluble fiber, which can be found in oats, beans, lentils, vegetables, and some fruits, removes excess cholesterol from your body. A high-fiber diet is also necessary for good digestion, overall gastrointestinal health, and maintaining a healthy weight. Insoluble fiber, which cleans your digestive tract, is found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, and bran. Community gardens can provide a large portion of your daily fiber needs.
In addition to living healthier and preventing disease, working toward a WFPB diet can also be healthier for your wallet. Families who eliminate most or all of the meat and dairy products in their diet can save up to $750 per year. Not only does vegetarian food cost less to buy or grow, but it can help you make fewer trips to the grocery store, which means you’ll save time—and gas or public transportation fares.
Vitamin and Mineral-Rich
Good nutrition throughout childhood is essential for normal physical growth and brain development, and it helps establish healthy lifelong eating habits. Eating a good variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes (beans, peas, and peanuts) provides a natural source of nutrients like protein, calcium, and B vitamins. A balanced diet is a better source of vitamins and minerals than supplements (which can also be expensive!). You can read more about child nutrition guidelines here.
Reduces Intake of Harmful Ingredients
Another benefit to a WFPB diet is that it lowers childrens’ intake of the harmful or potentially harmful ingredients found in processed foods. These include:
Excessive sodium (salt). The CDC estimates that 1 in 6 children aged 8-17 has above-normal blood pressure. Eating too many processed and fast food or restaurant foods can lead not only to elevated blood pressure in children, but can set them on the path to heart disease as adults. Eating food high in salt can also alter a child’s palate and cause them to be unable to enjoy foods that are lower in sodium.
Nitrates and nitrites. These additives are found in processed meats like lunchmeat, Italian cold cuts, hot dogs, and similar products, which are often also high in sodium. Excessive amounts of nitrates and nitrites are strongly linked to cancer.
Trans saturated fats. We do need some fats in our diet, because they provide energy and help with vitamin absorption. Healthy fats can be found in olive oil and certain other oils as well as avocados, olives, and nuts. However, eating too many trans saturated fats (often called trans fats) raises “bad” cholesterol and lowers “good” cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart and blood vessel disease. Reducing or eliminating these in childrens’ diets can help them avoid cardiovascular disease as adults.
Artificial colors. Artificial food coloring is added to many processed foods (such as boxed macaroni and cheese) in order to make it look more appealing. However, not only do artificial colors have no health benefits, but studies show that they are linked to worsened symptoms in children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
Sugar and artificial sweeteners. It’s widely recognized that consuming excessive amounts of sugar is bad for human health: it can cause elevated blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease. However, artificial sweeteners are not a good substitute, especially for children. They are linked with obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic problems.
Bleached flours. Unbleached flour contains no additives, but the process of bleaching flour produces a chemical called alloxan hydrate, which is linked to diabetes. Bleached flour has also been stripped of many of the nutrients it would otherwise contain. Food manufacturers may add nutrients back into the flour to create “enriched flour.” However, these can also contain toxic chemicals. Enriched flour is often found in cereals, crackers, and white breads.
Help Kids Learn To Garden With BeamUp
High-quality education, healthcare, and other support systems are extremely important for helping young people prepare for a bright future. BeamUp offers programming to help underinvested youth succeed in every aspect of life. Our goal is to provide opportunities for youth and young adults of lower socioeconomic status to equip themselves with the tools needed to lift themselves out of poverty and violence.
At the core of BeamUp is access to quality education about a healthy lifestyle, professional education, plant-based whole foods, making climate-friendly choices, and mindfulness. Help us support and teach kids by shopping for swag or donating today!