13 September 2010

Rainbow inspired guide to selecting fruits and vegetables

Eating healthy can seem confusing. Every day we hear about a new 'super food', or the amazing health benefits of some fruit or vegetable that we were previously unaware of. Trying to keep up with it all can be a daunting task! A very simple method that I try to abide when grocery shopping is to simple fill my cart with the colors of the rainbow (in whole food form of course).

Phytonutrients are the highly beneficial micronutrients that give plants their colors. Each color is indicative of a different phytonutrient. We need them in our diet to maintain our health and to protect us from disease. Most Americans are quite undernourished in these powerhouses, and my guess is that is primarily because we do not typically maintain enough of a variety in our diet. If you aim to bring home a rainbow of colors in produce, you can feel confident that you are getting an adequate variety of these highly beneficial substances.

The power-packed nutrients that give fruits and vegetables their many colors also provide us with a rich amount of Mother Nature's medicine. They are cancer protective, as they are excellent sources of antioxidants. Their antioxidants are also heart healthy, as they can interfere with the damaging effects of LDL cholesterol on arteries. LDLs, aka 'the bad cholesterol', become more harmful after exposed to free radicals, during which they are oxidized. Oxidized LDLs build up faster where there is free radical damage on artery walls, and so the antioxidants in phytonutrients serve to inhibit this process. Phytonutrients make their own disease-fighting chemicals, aptly named phyto-chemicals, which aid in cell repair and cell growth. They also help to boost immune responses.

To give you a general idea of where you can find these healthy helpers, here is a brief synopsis, although this is FAR from all-inclusive:

-Red indicates lycopene. It is found in tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon, and guava. Other foods containing small amounts of lycopene include persimmon and apricots. It is a powerful antioxidant and thus highly cancer protective.

-Orange indicates beta-carotene. Foods rich in this include sweet potatoes, carrots and winter squash. This provides a source of vitamin A, which promotes eye health, as well immunity.

-Yellow indicates lutein, which can be found in corn and zucchini. It protect the eyes from developing age-related macular degeneration and also helps prevent certain cancers.

-Green also indicates lutein as well as zeaxanthin, and can be found in kale, spinach, collard greens, romaine, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. They contain powerful antioxidants and also promote eye health.

-Blue/ Indigo / Violet indicate anthocyanidins and are found in blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, black currants, and red and purple grapes They are cancer protective and promote cardiovascular health.

-Though not an official color of the rainbow, white foods are also sources of phytonutrients. White indicates allicin and selenium, and can be found in foods such as garlic, mushrooms, cauliflower and potatoes.

I will re-iterate that there are many, many more foods containing rich quantities of phytonutrients that I did not mention above. You really don't have to worry about all the specifics. The take home message is to just be sure to always invite your old friend ROY G. BIV to dinner, and you will be well on your way to a healthier diet!

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Lori Zito | @LoriZito
Lori is a certified holistic health and nutrition coach, a yoga instructor, and a physical therapist. Learn more at her website Live In The Balance.

Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/computix