To start eating healthier… Eat more plants! The phytonutrients in plants are good medicine for chronic disease prevention and treatment.
Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of phytonutrients, along with whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, and teas. Phytonutrients in food come in all different colors—green, red, yellow, orange, green, blue-purple-black, and white-tan-brown.
Here’s the challenge:
Aim to eat one to two servings of each color per day – Mostly vegetables, and some fruit, whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, and teas.
Here’s the colors:
Red Foods – tomato, red cabbage, chili powder, cherries, watermelon, raspberries, grapefruit
Orange Foods – bell pepper, carrots, turmeric, nectarine, apricots, mango, papaya
Yellow Foods – ginger, corn, banana, Summer squash, lemon, millet, potatoes, pineapple
Green Foods – broccoli, salad greens, spinach, collards, kale, zucchini, herbs, olives, green tea
Blue/Purple/Black Foods – eggplant, olives, berries, grapes, plums, figs, raisins, tea
White/Tan/Brown Foods – garlic, onions, mushrooms, parsnips, potatoes, coffee, cocoa, coconut, nuts/seeds, whole grains, legumes
What’s a serving?
Typically ½ cup of cut-up, a medium piece of fruit, 1 cup of leafy greens is considered a serving.
In the case of nuts/seeds, olives, cocoa, coconut, dried fruit, 2 tablespoons is considered a serving. For spices, garlic, coffee, 1 teaspoon is considered a serving.
6 Steps to Getting More Phytonutrients:
Excerpt from the Institute of Functional Medicine’s Phytonutrient Spectrum comprehensive guide
Food is more than nutrition. We believe it’s essential to have optimal amounts of phytonutrients and to be nourished through the power of yum, joy of cooking and eating, and the courage to be creative while increasing control of our food supply and meal preparation.
Aim for 9-13 Servings of Plant Foods Everyday
We need about 9-13 servings of whole plant foods if we want to prevent chronic disease. A typical serving is only half a cup of cooked vegetables, one cup of raw leafy vegetable, or a medium-sized piece of fruit. It would be best to aim for every meal of the day to have about 3-4 servings of plant foods so that at three general meals per day (not including snacks), you would make your serving requirement on a daily basis.
Know Your Phytonutrient Sources
Phytonutrient-rich eats are limitless, making it fun to experiment with new varieties and colors even within one category of food. Here are some sources of phytonutrients to get you started: any and all plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and even herbs and spices.
Eat the Rainbow of Colors
Instead of getting the full rainbow of color, you may be eating the standard processed food colors of brown, yellow, and white. For example, think of the typical breakfast menu – waffles, pancakes, ready-to-eat cereal, sausage, and eggs – which does not necessarily provide much color early in the day. However, if you had a fruit smoothie with blueberries, peaches, and raspberries, you’d have three colors of the seven colors of the rainbow first thing in the morning! Make it your goal to get the full seven colors every day with a variety of foods.
Vary Your Choices
There are thousands of phytonutrients in nature. If we eat the same foods over and over again, even if they are colorful, we may be missing the universe of important phytonutrients in foods. One helpful hint is to try a new food every week to ensure that you are getting different foods to try!
When we put certain foods together, we may achieve a better effect than if we just had the foods by themselves. Sometimes, there can be a “synergistic” result from combining certain foods. For example, putting turmeric with black pepper together with olive oil could enhance the phytonutrient effects of all three foods on your health. Adding lemon juice to spinach could help the iron become more absorbed by your body. Try putting plant foods together for an enhanced health benefit.
Be Creative with Substitutions
One way to get more plant foods would be to think of foods that are commonly eaten that may not be as nutrient dense and replace with nutrient-dense options. Some plant foods clearly give us more phytonutrients than others! For example, you could substitute mashed potatoes with mashed purple potatoes or sweet potatoes. You could substitute white rice with purple, brown, or black rice.