I recently had the pleasure of speaking to the Country Club of Louisiana Garden Club on “Eating the Rainbow”. It was a quick 20 minute talk on phytonutrients, why we need them daily, and how to get them.
Here are some of the highlights:
- According to the USDA, the Standard American Diet (SAD) is only 12% (by calories) plant food and 63% (by calories) processed food.
- The USDA recommends making 1/2 of your plate fruits and veggies and if you really want to reach optimal health, strive for 3/4 of your plate with most of that being veggies (more veggies, less fruit)
WHY so many veggies?
- Every diet program that has been researched and considered successful has 1 thing in common:
they are all high in vegetables.
i.e. DASH, Mediterranean, Ornish, Etc.
- Studies show that people who eat more plant foods have reduced risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
What Makes Veggies so Great?
- Most vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories. None have cholesterol.
- All Vegetables have FIBER! Dietary fiber from vegetables can help reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Fiber is important for proper bowel function. Fiber-containing foods help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories. Fiber feeds your gut bacteria (this is a good thing!) Animal products contain NO fiber at all!
- Vegetables provide nutrients (vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients) vital for health and maintenance of your body.
What are Phytonutrients?
- Natural components of plants that are powerful defenders of health which promote healing.
- Different than vitamins and minerals.
- Stimulate enzymes that help the body preform optimally! Enzymes help body to get rid of toxins, boost the immune system, improve cardiovascular health, promote healthy estrogen metabolism, and stimulate the death of cancer cells. Phytonutrients help enzymes to do all of these jobs more efficiently!
- Play an active role in improving the stress response and reducing inflammation.
How do I get Phytonutrients?
- Simply put, you eat plants!
- Phytonutrients are associated with different colors—green, yellow-orange, red, blue-purple, and white.
- To promote good health, EAT the RAINBOW each day.
- To get all of the phytonutrients to help your body run the best it can, you need all the colors of the rainbow each day.
- Aim for 1-2 of each color per day! It is better to eat a small amount of each color than a large amount of 1 color.
Ways to get more red foods:
- Add fresh tomatoes, goji berries, raspberries, pomegranate seeds, or pink grapefruit sections to your green salads and/or smoothies.
- Use marinara (red) sauce instead of an alfredo (white) sauce.
- Make a Mediterranean salad with tomatoes, different colored peppers, olives, garlic, herbs, and feta cheese.
- Prepare salsa using chopped tomatoes, chopped red onions, and chili peppers.
- Great snack ideas include watermelon slices, red bell pepper, raspberries, cherries, strawberries, and apple slices.
- Roast red pepper to add to salads.
Ways to get more orange foods:
- Have a sweet potato instead of a baked potato.
- Add carrots, orange bell pepper to salads and other dishes. Shredded carrots are easily added to wraps.
- Sprinkle turmeric powder into your stir-fry.
- Put orange slices into your water pitcher.
- Have a clementine, tangerine, nectarine, or peach as a mid-morning or afternoon snack.
- Puree carrots, butternut squash, and/or pumpkin and use as a soup base.
- Make a tropical fruit smoothie containing fresh, cubed mango, papaya, and orange in a base of coconut milk with your choice of protein powder.
- Make a trail mix containing dried orange fruits like apricots, mango, and papaya.
Ways to get more yellow foods:
- Slice a banana into your warm oatmeal cereal.
- Have slices of a Golden Delicious apple or an Asian pear as a mid-morning or afternoon snack together with a thin layer of nut butter.
- Add diced yellow bell pepper to a vegetable stir-fry or salad.
- Have Yukon Gold and French fingerling potatoes rather than a starchy, white Russet potato.
- Grate ginger into a stir-fry of Asian vegetables like snap peas, cabbage, and carrots.
- Make a ginger tea into which you squeeze fresh lemon.
- Have pineapple slices as a dessert.
- Have yellow carrots as a side dish.
Ways to get more green foods:
- Have an avocado in your salad or on top of a hamburger or grilled chicken breast.
- Make a stir-fry with bok choy, broccolini, and edamame.
- Have a cup of green tea instead of coffee.
- Use extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on salads.
- To meat and vegetable dishes, add more green-colored herbs and spices like rosemary, oregano, dill, and thyme.
- Toss some greens into your morning smoothie.
- Roast Brussels sprouts and drizzle with olive oil.
- Add green olives, green peas, cucumber, and celery into a salad.
- Have diced asparagus and spinach in your morning omelet.
- Squeeze fresh lime into your water.
- Add greens to your favorite soup recipe.
Ways to get more blue/purple/black foods:
- 80% of Americans do NOT get this group daily!
- Have berries in a smoothie.
- Add blueberries and raspberries to yogurt, breakfast cereal (hot or cold), and pancakes/waffles.
- Try purple kale instead of the usual green kale.
- Make a stir-fry with purple vegetables like eggplant, purple potatoes, and complement with purple rice.
- Substitute purple or black rice for white rice.
- Try shredding some purple cabbage into salads and stir-fry.
- Make purple carrot puree and use as a base for soups or sauces.
- Snack on figs, plums, raisins, and berries.
- Add raisins to baked recipes and to cereals.
Ways to get more white/tan/brown foods:
- Add some cocoa powder to your smoothie.
- Add brown spices (cinnamon, clove, allspice) to your cooking and baking.
- Use dates instead of refined sweeteners to sweeten dishes.
- Add diced onion to a stir-fry, salad or sandwich.
- Drizzle warm tahini over vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, carrots).
- Dip vegetables into hummus (ground chickpea dip) or bean dip.
- Have applesauce instead of pudding for dessert – dress up the applesauce with a dash of cinnamon.
- Add mushrooms to broths and soups for more flavor and medicinal impact.
- Sprinkle sesame seeds on a vegetable stir-fry.
- Think about different varieties of foods. Purple (instead of green) kale, Yellow or Purple carrots, Purple potatoes, different colored peppers and tomatoes, etc.
- Make it your goal to try one new plant food (fruit, vegetable, nut, seed, legume, whole grain) per week. Explore ethnic stores for greater variety.
- Stock up on frozen vegetables for easy cooking.
- Use the fruits and vegetables that go bad easily first. Save hardier varieties for later in the week.
- Keep fruits and vegetables where you can see them so you’ll remember to eat them.
- Keep a variety of chopped onions, peppers, and greens for salads.
- Keep a bowl or container of fresh cut vegetables on the top shelf of refrigerator, within easy reach.
- Keep fruit bowl on kitchen counter, table, and desk at work.Pack fruit and vegetables in purse/briefcase to eat as a snack. Bring moist towelettes to clean them off before eating if you do not have time to wash
- Choose fruit for dessert (fruit kabobs, berry compotes, fruit salads, etc.).
- Have dishes with lots of vegetable variety (e.g., soups, stir-fry).
- Use vegetable- and mushroom-based sauces.
- Choose darker vegetables over lighter to maximize nutrient content.
- Make the switch from mashed white potatoes to sliced carrots or mashed cauliflower.
- Make a switch from corn to spinach.
- Toss in red pepper, tomato sauce, garlic, onions or broccoli to omelets.
- Be generous with your use of spices!
- Add rinds of oranges or lemons to water, chicken, and fish.
- Try a little bit of every color at a salad bar.
Please share any tips that you have!