It’s that time of the year when many people’s attention turns to shaping up for the summer. Many of us will go on diets, avoid junk foods and rev up our exercising routines to shed pounds so we don’t embarrass ourselves on our local beaches. In short, we grow increasingly concerned about our health and general well-being.

This got me to thinking about the human diet and the importance of fertilizers in crop production that greatly aid in meeting some of these important health objectives. In short, these fertilizers assure healthy crops, which in turn allow them to produce their own important nutrients for the benefit of us humans.

Among the many nutrients to plants that fertilizers provide are the all-important elements of potassium and magnesium. The principal source of potassium is potash. Potassium, a chemical element symbolized by the letter K, is an essential component of plant nutrition and is found in most soil types. About 93 percent of the world’s potassium production is mined and consumed by the fertilizer industry. It is also severely lacking in the American diet.

You will know that you are deficient in potassium if you find yourself experiencing an overall weakness and seem to be constantly fatigued. You’re also likely to have trouble concentrating on your daily tasks, and may have difficulty with muscular coordination. Potassium deficiency can lead to high blood pressure problems, hypertension, strokes, and heart irregularities. Some foods that are high in potassium include cantaloupes, bananas, oranges, apricots and avocados.

Magnesium also is very important in the growth and maintenance of living things. Known as the chemical element Mg, magnesium is the metallic ion at the center of chlorophyll, and is thus a common additive to fertilizers. The earth’s crust contains 2 percent of this alkaline metal. Mg is one of seven minerals that you need in relatively large amounts to stay in top shape. Most of your body’s magnesium is located in your bones and teeth. Even a mild deficiency of this chemical element can cause sensitivity to noise, nervousness, irritability, mental depression, confusion, twitching, trembling, apprehension, and insomnia. Some healthy, whole food sources of magnesium include cooked brown rice, raw almonds, cooked spinach, cooked lima beans, avocados, cooked okra and cooked black-eyed peas.

The sad fact is that many of us consume more calories than we need without meeting recommended intakes for a number of nutrients. This means that most people need to choose meals and snacks that are high in nutrients, but low to moderate in energy content; that is, meeting nutrient recommendations must go hand-in-hand with keeping calories under control. Doing so offers important benefits — normal growth and development of children, health promotion for people of all ages, and reduction of risk for a number of chronic diseases that are major public health problems.

Recently there have been published reports that allude (if not downright accuse) to American agriculture’s role in contributing to obesity in the U.S. Not so. Overwhelming evidence and most accredited health organizations – including the American Heart Association – refute that myth. Obesity is not a debate between organic versus traditional agriculture. The problem lies in consumers’ lifestyle choices; eating prepackaged, processed, and fast foods. For a myriad of reasons, Americans have replaced healthy meals with quick, nutritionally deficit choices — which tend to be heavily imbalanced toward starches, fats and sugars.

It is in this vein that the California Fertilizer Foundation (CFF) – an organization that is part of the Western Plant Health Association – during the past 11 years has been teaching children the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle by giving them the opportunity to grow their own vegetable gardens.

Each year, CFF writes a $1,200 check each to 24 California schools to build campus gardens, with separate payments and special events going to schools to maintain the gardens they already have. This is CFF’s effort to teach children early on how crucial it is to know the importance of plant nutrition, where food comes from and the hurdles that farmers face, and to instill in them the value of a healthy diet.

Medical doctors say that when it comes to buying fruits and vegetables, many factors play a role in which types consumers choose, including nutritional value. Are there significant differences among fresh, frozen, canned or dried? The American Dietitian Association says no matter what form they take, fruits and vegetables are good-for-you foods that can be enjoyed at any time.

“There are thousands of varieties of canned and frozen fruits and vegetables on grocery store shelves, which makes it easy to find foods that suit your tastes and fit into a healthy eating plan,” says ADA spokesperson Ximena Jimenez in a recent news release. “And it’s always fun to try a new food or find a new way to cook.”

So, like it or not, the Christmas holiday season is long over so overindulging excuses fall on deaf ears. As I was told in the military, it’s time to shape up or ship out. Besides, summer is here and if you plan on strutting your stuff on the beaches or at Lake Tahoe, you had best not be looking like Homer Simpson.