5 ways to get back to nature for a healthy diet

Rediscover nature’s bounty with our handy guide to finding food in its natural habitat.

The pace of modern life means we don’t always make the best choices when it comes to food. While we’re on the go, it’s often easier to grab what’s convenient rather than what’s healthy.

But, while it’s not always possible, sometimes it is worth slowing down, and taking time to find food closer to its source. It could be good for both our bodies and our minds.

Not only are vegetables and fruits in their natural state a feast for all our senses, often with vivid colors, enticing smells and fresh tasty goodness, but research also suggests any time spent getting back to nature is a boost for our moods.

Harvard Medical School has reported evidence of strong connections between time spent close to nature and reduced stress, anxiety and depression. Dr Jason Strauss of the Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance called interacting with nature ‘one of the best self-improvement tools in use.

So here are five ways to find healthy food at its source and stay fit in mind, body and soul.

1. Wild fruit and nuts

We tend to imagine that all the food available is the result of farming and cultivation, but that’s not so. A remarkable amount of edible plant life exists in the wild, with fruits and nuts some of the most abundant. Keep your eyes peeled when you’re on a hike with friends or family, because snacking on the go takes on a whole new meaning when it’s wild strawberries on a summer stroll. From winter blackberries to hazelnuts, rose hips (best cooked) and sweet chestnuts, it’s a year-round bounty that puts you back in touch with the very essence of food. And, once again, make sure you’re entirely sure something is completely edible and check all rules and/or restrictions in the area you’re foraging.

 

2. Pick your own

Plenty of farms offer opportunities to pick your own, from delicious blueberries to gorgeous smelling tomatoes on the vine, to even pumpkins. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience cooking with produce you’ve picked yourself, with absolute knowledge of where it comes from and no need to check a use-before date from supermarket packaging.

 

3. Finding a feast at the farm

One step removed from pick your own is a visit to the farmers market. They’ve sprouted up everywhere in the past decade as the demand for produce straight from the farm has soared. You may not have quite the satisfaction of plucking a carrot from the earth, but you can still peruse produce dusted in soil, untrimmed and ungraded for its aesthetic appeal, and appreciate its natural scent. Food is more than taste – it’s a multi-sensory experience. Research reported in Scientific American even suggests smell and sight may take the lead over taste.

 

4. Digging for your supper

If you really want to get your hands dirty while getting back to nature, a community garden could be the answer. Depending on the local climate and soil conditions you can choose from a vast range of fruits and vegetables to grow. Preparing your plot, clearing it, composting with household food waste and planting your favorite foods can be incredibly rewarding. And, there are few things better than eating the produce you’ve toiled over. There are plenty of places you can turn for professional advice, such as the Royal Horticultural Society or the American Community Gardening Association.

 

5. Your backyard, patio or balcony garden

Whether you’re growing herbs in a window box or you’ve space to cultivate a vegetable patch, what you can grow on your own is only limited by your inclination and, of course, climate and soil type. Even in winter you can harvest broccoli, sprouts, cabbages, kale, leeks and parsnips, and, with a bit of protection, chard, parsley and arugula. Whatever you decide on, you’ll be as close as possible to the food you put on your plate. And, don’t forget, there are edible flowers such as roses, lavender and chrysanthemums that can make your garden both beautiful and bountiful.