OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAProduce grown in your own backyard is fresh, nutritious, and economical. Fresh fruits and vegetables are good for your vascular health. Better still, gardening is good exercise.

Increasingly popular, Americans are applying their green thumbs in backyard, window box, rooftop, and community garden plots. They’re growing their own fruits (strawberries, raspberries, peaches, grapes, and melons) and vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, carrots, radishes, and cucumbers).

Their results are a health and wealth bonanza. One dollar invested in a community garden plot yields $6 worth of vegetables according to the article, Health Benefits of Urban Agriculture: Public Health and Food Security on www.foodsecurity.org.

A salad of mixed greens topped with fresh-picked blueberries provides a light and healthy summer meal. Food affects our cholesterol, blood pressure, and body weight. These are important in maintaining healthy veins and arteries.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans created by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) encourage people to eat  more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk products, lean meats, beans, eggs, nuts, fish, foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugar.

Minimal sodium intake is the suggestion of the USDA Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Plan to lower high blood pressure (hypertension). This is a risk factor for carotid artery disease as well as stroke, the fourth leading cause of death in America according to 2010 National Vital Statistics.

Food choices, moderate physical activity (walking 30 minutes daily), not smoking, and a healthy body weight can help control blood pressure and cholesterol. Persons at risk of high cholesterol should have an annual cholesterol blood test. Medications can help lower cholesterol.

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