You may have heard that “eating the rainbow” (and no, I don’t mean skittles!) is key to nourishing your body and mind and preventing chronic disease. Adding more plant foods to your diet, especially various fruits and vegetables, can help you paint a colorful picture of health. The reason for this is because they contain phytonutrients, the compounds that give plants their rich colors, protect them from environmental disease, and provide them with distinct rich tastes and aromas.
Phytonutrients Impact on Overall Health
Phytonutrients serve many functions. For plants, they strengthen the immune system by protecting them from threats in the environment such as disease, excessive heat, pollutants, and drought. Amazingly, researchers have identified more than 900 different phytochemicals in plant foods, and as research continues, more are likely to be discovered.
When humans eat plant foods containing these compounds, we benefit from their protective properties. Phytonutrients have complementary and overlapping mechanisms of action in the body. These include antioxidant effects, modulation of detoxification enzymes, stimulation of the immune system, modulation of hormone metabolism, and antibacterial and antiviral effects. Read more about specific phytochemicals and antioxidants here.
Scientists are learning more and more every day about the positive impact of these compounds. Epidemiological research suggests that diets including a wide variety of fruits and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. It truly pays off to eat colorfully and to experiment with many different fruits and vegetables to expand our palates, keep our meals interesting and maximize the nourishment we provide our bodies. Eating more colors can be challenging when many of us are already struggling to eat less processed foods and tend to gravitate towards the same fruits and vegetables habitually.
Working with a health and wellness coach is one way you can take charge of your nutrition. A coach can help you learn about the wide variety of fruits and vegetables, understand in greater depth the unique benefits of the different colors, try out new recipes and break down the barriers keeping you stuck in a nutritional rut with your current food patterns. Furthermore, a coach can serve as an “accountability partner” as you navigate the inevitable motivational challenges of behavioral change supporting you in an encouraging way that helps you stay on track problem solving obstacles to find sustainable solutions. That one-on-one relationship with a coach can make all the difference in keeping you on track towards your goal. Small changes can reap big rewards. Your body will thank you!
US Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit per day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. A typical serving is only half a cup of cooked vegetables, one cup of raw leafy vegetables, or a medium-sized piece of fruit, which translates to about 9-13 servings of these foods per day. The average American consumes far less, with an average of only 2-4 servings. To meet the suggested requirement, nutritionists recommend trying to include 3-4 plant foods in each meal of the day. Make it colorful! Truly “eat the rainbow.” The different fruit and vegetable colors represent diverse phytochemicals which is why getting a variety is essential. If you repeatedly choose only one set of colors, you miss the value of the broad spectrum. Aim to mix it up! Try for the full seven colors every day.
The Benefits of Color Variety
The following is a short, basic list of plant foods sorted by color, highlighting the benefits each provides. Below is just a sampling of the variety you can choose. There are so many delightful and unusual fruits, vegetables, seeds, legumes, herbs, and spices to try!
Red: These are rich in the carotenoid lycopene. This powerful antioxidant fights free radicals, and research shows that it improves skin health and protects against prostate cancer and heart and lung disease.
Found in: strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, tomatoes, cherries, apples, beets, watermelon, red grapes, red peppers, red onions
Orange and yellow: Provide beta cryptothanxin, which supports intracellular communication, has anti-inflammatory effects, and protects eye, heart, vascular, and skin health.
Found in: carrots, sweet potatoes, yellow peppers, oranges, bananas, pineapple, tangerines, mango, pumpkin, apricots, winter squash (butternut, acorn), peaches, cantaloupe, corn
Green: These foods are rich in cancer-blocking chemicals like sulforaphane, isocyanate, and indoles, which inhibit the action of carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds). They also contribute to hormone balance, cell protection, and brain health.
Found in: spinach, avocados, asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, alfalfa sprouts, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kiwi fruit, collard greens, green tea, green herbs (mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil)
Blue and purple: Contain potent antioxidants called anthocyanins believed to delay cellular aging and help the heart by blocking the formation of blood clots.
Found in: blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, Concord grapes, raisins, eggplant, plums, figs, prunes, lavender, purple cabbage
White and brown: The onion family contains allicin, which has anti-tumor properties. Other foods in this group contain antioxidant flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol.
Found in: onions, cauliflower, garlic, leeks, parsnips, daikon radish, mushrooms
Talk to a Get Centered Health and Wellness Coach today to get your colorful plant foods comprehensive list, along with tips and tools for integrating more of these health-supporting powerhouses into your diet. Start your journey toward increased energy, less stress, and better health with the kind of relational accountability support that will help you make lasting and sustainable lifestyle changes. Click here to download and/or print a short phytonutrient guide to get you started.