ARE YOU EATING A RAINBOW EVERY DAY?
GOOD NUTRITION…what does that really mean? Depending on who you talk to, it could mean raw, vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, organic, or grass-fed. Or it could be all about portion size and balance. The amount of material available in books, in magazine articles, and in a variety of online sources can cause confusion and frustration for many readers as they try to determine what eating plan is best for them. Well, let me put you at ease: There is room for all types of diets. As simple as it may seem, it all depends on how you react personally to the foods you put in your body. You are your own experiment of “one”. No matter what nutrition plan you follow, you will lose weight, at least in the beginning. Then, once your body becomes accustomed to your eating plan, you may plateau or even gain weight. Even if you can maintain the weight loss, will you feel deprived? Will you keep up the diet long-term? Does the food or “diet plan” have sufficient variety and interest to keep you engaged permanently? No matter what “diet” or nutrition plan you subscribe to, one commonality is that we need more fruits and vegetables in our plan. Even low-carb dieters are encouraged to eat lots of vegetables.
Look up any health organization like World Health Organization, American Diabetes Association, American Cancer Society, Multiple Sclerosis Society; any of them, all of them have one remarkable common aspect. They all agree that we need to eat more vegetables and fruits. “Why is that?” you might wonder. As we examine the importance of “eating a rainbow”, keep this question in the back of your mind. “What is the most important part of a carrot”?
So what is it about vegetables and fruits that are so beneficial for us? Some might say it’s the fiber. Fiber helps us feel full or satiated and keeps us “regular”. I would say they are right. Some might also say it’s the vitamins and minerals. I concur that they would also be right.
But really, it’s the micronutrients and phytonutrients in each piece of vegetable or fruit that benefit us the most. You might be thinking “miro-what?, phyto-what?” Micronutrients are the trace vitamins and minerals in our food, and phytonutrients are plant nutrients (phyto means plant). According to Dictionary.com, micronutrients and phytonutrients are “any of the various bioactive chemical compounds found in plants, as antioxidants, considered to be beneficial to human health.” Antioxidants has become a popular term in health and nutrition in the last few years; we are told to eat foods or to drink juices which contain these “all important antioxidants”. Why are they so vital to a healthy diet? Antioxidants are those beneficial nutrients that scavenge those nasty free radicals that run through our bodies all day every day. Free radicals are formed just by the challenges of our every-day living. If you workout on a regular basis or have a stressful job, you are creating even more free-radicals than the average person. Think of an apple. When you cut it open and leave it out in the air for a while, it turns brown. Those are free radicals that oxidize the apple and turn it brown. But, if you splash some lemon juice on that same apple right after you cut it open, it doesn’t turn brown. The lemon juice has anti-oxidants. These anti-oxidants are abundant in all fruits and vegetables. They are also abundant in grass-fed meats…but that’s another article.
So how do you get all those wonderful antioxidants and phytonutrients in your daily eating plan? Great question! Have you ever heard of “Eating a Rainbow of Colors”? Easy to say, but not so easy to do every day. When you make your food choices each day, think color. The more color you get on your plate on a regular basis, the healthier you’ll be. How healthy?
Benefits of Eating the Rainbow:
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Eating as few as 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day has an inverse relationship with cardiovascular disease.
- Reduced risk of cancer. Intake of fruits and vegetables is negatively correlated with several types of cancer. In other words, the more the merrier.
- Reduced risk of Alzheimer disease
- Reduced age-related functional decline
- Reduced oxidative stress, therefore reduced chronic inflammation
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Reduced abdominal fat mass and significant reduction in triglyceride levels- according to a recently published study in the Journal of Pediatrics.
According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the more fruits and vegetables you combine together, the more additive or synergistic the effect of the antioxidants. This equals a bigger benefit. Keep in mind these benefits are from whole, real food, not multi-vitamin and mineral supplements.
So let’s take a look at each color of the rainbow and what some of those foods look like.
Red: tomatoes, strawberries, red peppers, pink grapefruit, cranberries, watermelon.
Orange: oranges, carrots, pumpkin, squash, cantaloupe, kumquats, mango, peaches, sweet potatoes.
Yellow: lemon, yellow squash, pineapple, pears, white grapefruit, yellow apples, yellow onions, yellow squash. Some individuals might say corn, but remember that corn is really a grain and not a vegetable.
Green: broccoli, collard greens, cucumbers, green beans, green peppers, kale, spinach, avocados, asparagus, arugula, artichokes, bok choy, celery, endive, limes, sno peas, snap peas, zucchini, assorted green herbs…you get the picture.
Blue, indigo, violet: blueberries, eggplant, beets, acai, purple grapes, plums, boysenberries, elderberries, red onions.
White: Asian pears, cauliflower, banana, coconut, mushroom, onion, jicama, white asparagus.
Black: dates, blackberries, black currants, black olives, dates, truffles.
So what are the beneficial antioxidants in each fruit or vegetable? Honestly, I don’t know all of them, but I know some of them: lycopene in tomatoes, beta-carotene in squash and carrots, anthocyanidins in berries. But I don’t get hung up on the individual nutrients. I love to eat the whole food and get ALL the nutrients that work so well together…just the way nature planned. Truthfully, scientists haven’t even discovered all the valuable antioxidants, yet. We are just scratching the surface.
What are some easy ways to incorporate vegetables into your meals? The number one way…pulverize and disguise. When you make any kind of sauce, pulverize and blend in some carrots, zucchini or beets. I will bet that no one will notice. When making burgers or meatloaf, grate some fresh vegetables and add them to the meat. This technique has proven especially effective when trying to get some children to “eat their veggies”. If eating eggs or egg whites, add some peppers, onions and spinach to the pan. Then, spread a little avocado and/or salsa on top. When making a casserole or stew, add even more vegetables. A great tip for those chilly winter months is to make a pot of vegetable soup, thick and hearty with vegetables of your choice. Instead of cake or cookies for dessert, how about berries and real cream…yum.
Planning is also in important aspect of eating real food and being as healthy as you can be. Slice carrots and celery to have ready when you are hungry and looking for a snack. This will keep you from heading for the easy but oh-so-unhealthy snacks like chips, candy and granola bars. Celery, carrots, apples and bananas all taste great with a little nut butter spread on top. When making dinner, make extra servings of vegetables to have at breakfast or take for lunch.
The good news about adding more fruits and vegetables to your nutrition plan is that when you start adding more of these beneficial calories, they don’t leave room for the “bad” calories. You feel full; your body begins to feel better; you start eating healthier by default. The result…weight-loss. Another benefit, once you start eating more fruits and vegetables, is that you start craving more fruits and vegetables. It only takes the mind and body about four weeks to form a new pattern; try this experiment for a month. See if you don’t start to look and feel better, maybe even a few pounds lighter? And speaking of forming new patterns, wouldn’t it be great if your kids or grandkids ate fruits and vegetables without coercion and bribery? Modeling is so important for a child’s development; an adult modeling good eating patterns and preparing interesting and tasty vegetables and fruits for children to eat could aid in a child’s development in a host of ways. And do not forget about the additional water you’ll be getting. Daily hydration is so vital, and fruits and vegetables are 80%-90% water.
So whether they are raw, steamed, sautéed, baked or roasted, you can never get enough fruits and vegetables in your diet. One caveat: some people may need to limit their fruit intake because of the high sugar content. As I said before, we are all an experiment of “one”.
Now, let’s go back to my original question, “What is the most important part of the carrot?” Well, that’s kind of a trick question, because the most important part of the carrot is…the carrot.
David Bjerklie, Senior Science reporter and Chief of Research of Time Magazine wrote in October of 2003, and is still relevant today, “The news isn’t that fruits and vegetables are good for you. It’s that they are so good for you, they could save your life.” Now isn’t that truly a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?
Even if you know about all the wonderful benefits of micronutrients and phytonutrients, most of us fall short when it comes to getting them in our bodies. My job is to show people an easy way to bridge that gap between what they know they should eat and what they really do eat. I would love to help you do the same. And it can be as taking your vitamins every day…really.
Phyllis Guy is a food enthusiast and mind body nutrition health coach. She is a personal trainer certified with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). She lives in Denver with her 2 boys. If you would like more information on how you can incorporate better nutrition into your daily plan, she can be reached at 303-358-2045 or visit her website www.mynaturalbodywisdom.com . Do you like to grow your own food, Phyllis can help with that, as well: www.phyllis.towergarden.com.