Too much sugar. Too many carbs. Too many calories. Too much (or too little) fat or meat or dairy. Too little exercise. Too much TV. Too much time on electronic devices. There's no shortage of alleged culprits to explain the obesity epidemic. And recent studies reveal the first solid evidence that heavily processed foods play a role.

Sodas, salty snacks, ice cream, frozen pizza, chicken nuggets, instant soups and fruit drinks are a few examples of heavily processed food. Fruits and vegetables fresh from your garden, the farmer's market or the produce section of your grocery store are examples of unprocessed foods.

When people eat ultra-processed food, they average 500 more calories a day than when they eat unprocessed food. Over one week that 500 calories/day times 7 days equals one pound of body fat. That’s 3,500 calories -- one pound of fat. Eliminating just 500 calories daily could bring about the slow weight loss needed for better health.

At the recent Beltrami County Fair, in the horticulture area, there was displayed many seasonal types of fruits and vegetables easily grown in our area. Part of the reason for awarding ribbons to these entries is to show folks what can be grown in our area and eaten for good health and pleasure. The fair is one way we Master Gardeners encourage gardening for food and exercise. Adding shredded cheese to broccoli does not make it a highly processed food; go ahead and add the cheese if it helps make it palatable for you and your children. Once the family enjoys this healthy food, your next step may be to grow it and maybe enter a specimen at the fair.

A recent article in the Star Tribune highlighted the work of several well-known researchers on health and diet. Findings revealed that taking vitamin supplements only helps those who are tested and found to have a deficiency. "Surprise, surprise: Vitamin supplements had little impact on heart conditions, including heart disease, and lifespan as a whole." An estimated one out of two Americans is taking some kind of supplement or vitamin, and the study confirms there are very few, if any, supplements or vitamins that people should take as long as they are eating a healthy diet. Food contains both minerals and vitamins that the body is "built and designed to absorb." The study confirms "there is no magic pill."

Another downside is that vitamins and minerals sold over the counter are considered food supplements and are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. They are often vague in labeling and confusing for the average consumer. Always speak with your health care provider before taking any over-the-counter supplement. A reduced salt intake showed some benefit to heart health. To aid heart health a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, exercising regularly (summer gardening is a possibility) and avoiding smoking are beneficial. The author concluded that there is no need for a cabinet full of supplements; save your wallet and your time.

And to end with a quick tip -- summertime means heirloom tomatoes. For the ripest, juiciest ones, look for tomatoes that are heavy for their size, yield just slightly to pressure, and still have their green stem attached.

Happy and healthy eating to all!

Click on "Yard and Garden at the University of Minnesota Extension website -- www.extension.umn.edu -- for gardening information. Local Master Gardeners will respond to your questions via voicemail. Call (218) 444-7916, leaving your name, number and question. You can also find Master Gardeners on Facebook.