Why You Should “Eat the Rainbow”

Incorporating a variety of colorful plant foods will help ensure you are getting your daily dose of phytonutrients, which may elicit anti-cancer and anti-heart disease effects.

Photo by Adli Wahid on Unsplash

Plant foods provide an array of benefits to support health. Not only do they supply our bodies with essential fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but they are also a good source of phytonutrients.

“Phyto” is the Greek word for plant. Think of phytonutrients as plant nutrients. They are bioactive food compounds found naturally in plants.

These plant nutrients have been studied for their numerous health benefits and some research estimates that there are up to 4,000 phytonutrients. Only a fraction of them have been studied closely by researchers.

Epidemiological research suggests that consuming a diet rich in various fruits and vegetables is associated with reduced risk of chronic diseases. Phytonutrients appear to play a role in that, as they have been found to have anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, neuroprotective, and immunomodulating properties.

Examples of colorful phytonutrients

Red: Lycopene

  • Lycopene is found in tomatoes, pink grapefruit, red peppers and watermelon
  • This phytonutrient provides antioxidant properties and supports heart health. It has also been found to be protective against certain cancers, including prostate cancer

Orange: Beta-Carotene

  • Beta-Carotene is found in pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots and cantaloupe (as well as several other green vegetables)
  • This nutrient is a precursor for Vitamin A, which is important for vision, and the health of your skin and immune system

Yellow: Zeaxanthin

  • Zeaxanthin can be found in corn, egg yolks, winter squash, carrots and citrus fruit
  • This nutrient is associated with protection against atherosclerosis, decreased signs of aging, as well vision and skin health

Green: Lutein

  • Lutein can be found in collard greens, kale, spinach, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and lettuce
  • This nutrient is also important for vision health and is known for having anti-inflammatory properties

Blue / Purple: Anthocyanin and Resveratrol

  • Anthocyanin can be found in blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, and plums
  • Anthocyanins are believed to delay cellular aging and may help reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer
  • Resveratrol can be found in red wine and grapes
  • Resveratrol is an antioxidant, which supports heart health and also has anti-inflammatory properties

What are the consumption guidelines?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020–2025), which is produced by the USDA, advises to consume 2 1/2 cups of vegetables per day and a variety of colorful vegetables throughout the week. The USDA also recommends consuming 2 cups of fruit daily.

Unfortunately, it is estimated that nearly 90% of Americans do not meet the recommendations for vegetable intake.

About 18.2 million adults have coronary artery disease, and heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Furthermore, nearly 75% of adults are overweight or have obesity.

Basing meals around plant-based foods can help supply powerful phytonutrients with various health benefits, as well as aid in weight loss given that fruit and vegetables are generally low in calories and high in fiber.

Increasing consumption of plant foods is an appropriate goal for many individuals. Start with a realistic and measurable objective, such as aiming to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables one meal daily.

For more information relating to phytonutrients or incorporating more plant foods into your diet, sign up for an online diet and nutrition consultation with an Alpha Dietitian.

Once you complete an online consultation, one of our registered dietitians will help you come up with a nutrition plan that suits your needs. Please note that dietitians cannot prescribe medication for weight loss.

To learn more about the conditions we treat or get started with your online consultation, check out Alpha’s website and sign up today!

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