Dietitian Peggy Smith, RDN, LDN, CDE shares some practical advice on how to eat “The Rainbow”
The bright colors in fruits and vegetables are not just pretty to look at, they are a source of important phytonutrients.
So what are phytonutrients, and why are they important to health?
“Phyto” means plant; phytonutrients are vitamin-like substances or micronutrients found in the plants we eat, like fruits and vegetables. There are over 600 phytonutrients; common phytonutrients include carotenoids such as lutein, flavonoids, isoflavones, lignans, organosulfures, and plant sterols.
Phytonutrients are responsible for the different brilliant colors found in fruits and vegetables – they’re what make blueberries blue and sweet potatoes orange! Experts agree that the phytonutrients found in plant foods may help prevent disease and promote health. The combination of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and fiber in the whole food form is complex – and the interaction of these components is what makes up their many health benefits. Many phytonutrients have antioxidant properties that help prevent damage to cells throughout the body. The antioxidant capability of phytonutrients is one of their most important functions. The prevention of damage to cells from oxidative stress has been shown to help reduce inflammation and aid in healthy aging as well as reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Can’t I just get phytonutrients in a “pill” of supplements?
It is best to get antioxidants and phytonutrients naturally through foods – fruits and vegetables in their whole food form provide many other benefits too. There are many powdered drinks on the market now each claiming to provide the same nutritional benefits as the whole unprocessed plants that are often lacking in our daily meals. While they may provide some benefits, they should not be considered a replacement for a healthy meal plan rich in fruits and vegetables. Green powders/pills became popular when people became concerned about not consuming enough fruits and vegetables, but the process of biting, chewing, and digesting fruits and vegetables all support satiety and appetite regulation.
5 SIMPLE Ways to “Eat the Rainbow” Daily
Look at your schedule for the week and make a plan for how you will fit in vegetables/fruits in your meals. This helps you prepare by adding them to your grocery list.
Prep on weekends (days off) by chopping vegetables. Make a large salad out of hearty greens that won’t easily wilt (kale, arugula), add colors with carrots, red/green/yellow bell peppers, radishes, celery, etc. Keep the dressing separate and add some fresh strawberries, blueberries, or apples when ready to eat!
These are quickly added to meals, inexpensive, can store for long periods in the freezer. Frozen fruits can be added to oatmeal, smoothies, yogurt.
Serve last night’s chicken breast shredded in a whole grain wrap topped with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers – possibilities are endless.
Smoothies – milk, unflavored yogurt or protein powder added to frozen fruits and greens (spinach, kale, cucumbers, etc.) make wonderful smoothies and a simple immune-boosting breakfast!
Frittata or omelet – use eggs and whatever leftover veggies are available (or use some frozen chopped onions and peppers, broccoli, or spinach)
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Peggy Smith, RDN, LDN, CDE
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