EATING A RAINBOW
Forget the proverbial pot of gold; the real wealth associated with a rainbow can be found in the foods we include on our dinner plates. The chemical compounds found in the vibrant pigments of the leaves, seeds, roots and fruits of the plants we eat offer survival strategies to the plant from threats of bacteria, viruses, and fungi as well as environmental stresses. By simply consuming a rainbow of plant foods we too can reap the protective benefits hidden in the chemistry of living color. These compounds known as phytochemicals, have been discovered to be as essential to optimal human health as vitamins and minerals. So far, over 1,000 of these compounds have been discovered, and scientists are still in the early stages of investigation.
LIVING COLOR EQUALS WELLNESS
As we explore some of the most studied phytochemicals, it becomes apparent that we need a variety of plant foods on our menu, as each pigment contributes to the total wellness of the organism.
In plant foods such as tomatoes, red peppers we find lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, which can combat molecules that can destroy tissues in the body. Lycopene is associated with reducing the risk of cancer, especially cancer of the prostate as well as slowing the rate of atherosclerosis. Red grapes are storehouses of the phytochemical, resveratrol, a powerhouse of cell rejuvenation and promoter of healthy cholesterol.
Plant foods such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, cantalope, apricots and carrots for example, contain alpha and beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, to name a few. Citrus contains a phytochemical that acts as a natural blood thinner. This color is associated with reducing cancer risk, providing immune support and maintaining eye health.
If dark leafy greens and green veggies are absent from your diet; your diet is deficient. The pigment chlorophyll, responsible for the color, has anti-inflammatory properties associated with pain reduction, wound healing, and, most importantly; the nucleus of the cells of green plants contain the essential fatty acid, omega3. Omega3 is fundamental to the structure of the brain and nervous system. Omega3 fatty acid is used by the body to make the membranes that control everything that goes in and out of the cell. The B vitamin folic acid contained in greens, is necessary to the healthy development of the brain and spine of the fetus. Isoflavones found in soybeans can help with the symptoms of menopause, reduce the risk of breast cancer and help in the reduction of hormone-based tumors
BLUE VIOLET INDIGO
Mmmmm berries! There is also eggplant, plums and purple cabbage, as well as purple grapes in this delicious group. The phytochemical, anthocyanidin, will help blood vessels stay healthy and resist the attachment of blood clots.
Fiber is present in all plants. It comprises the walls of the cell, and provides structural support. Animal cells are surrounded by only a membrane and therefore are not a source of fiber at all. Some fibers keep the intestines moving, promoting colon health and reducing the risk of cholesterol reabsorbing back into the blood. Fiber also slows the rate of carbohydrate digestion, helping to maintain a steady glucose level, mitigating spikes and crashes in blood sugar. Rapid absorption of carbohydrate is a factor in weight gain.
There are important phytochemical compounds found in plant foods that we do not always associate with color such as garlic and onions. These foods have proven anti-bacterial functions. Of course we are speaking of the whole food, not the powder. Mushrooms and other fungi are just now being investigated for compounds that offer powerful immune support.
THE WHOLE IS MORE THAN THE SUM OF THE PARTS
Studies have shown that phytochemicals work synergistically, and are not effective in isolation. Supplements do not replace living foods. EAT THE WHOLE FOOD and try to obtain at least half your calories from unprocessed plant foods, i.e. fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes such as peas and beans, and whole grains. The combinations are endless, delicious and the result is better than a pot of gold; it is your vibrant health.
Elissa Daniel attended both UC Berkeley and UCLA, where she received her Doctorate.
After 10 years of Public Health service in underdeveloped nations, she established a private practice focusing on diet-related women's issues regarding pregnancy, breast-feeding, family meals, menopause, osteoporosis, weight changes, and anti-aging. She has worked with Public School Systems to make changes in school lunches and offer alternatives to junk food on campus and developed nutrition curricula as well. Dr. Daniel is a lecturer, author, and researcher.