How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you have on a daily basis? If you have five portions on your plate, congratulations, it’s a good start. But increasing to 7 or even 10 servings a day is even better.
The power behind foods such as broccoli, apples, blueberries or sweet potatoes is called phytonutrients or phytochemicals. It means chemicals produced by plants – nuts, seeds, grains and legumes as well – and their role in our health goes beyond that of vitamins and minerals. They are the compounds that protect a plant from all kinds of threats such as bugs and germs. The protection is transferred to us when we consume them.
One easy way to make sure you are eating a wide variety of phytonutrients is by choosing foods from different colours, since each colour is associated with some specific phytochemicals. This is the origin of the concept of eating a rainbow.
So, what is hidden in each colour and how can it benefit us?
Yellow/Orange: alpha and beta carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin
They all have antioxidant properties, and have been associated with increased immunity, healthy skin and vision. Some examples are carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, winter squash, yellow and orange peppers, mangoes and cantaloupe.
Red: lycopene, ellagic acid
Lycopene is found in tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit amongst others. For better absorption of its antioxidant properties, prepare your own tomato sauce cooked with good quality olive oil, which boosts the immune system.
They are powerful antioxidants and have antibacterial properties. They are found in blueberries, eggplant (with the skin), plums and blackberries. Sometimes, anthocyanins can give the plant a red hue as it happens in cranberries and other berries.
Green: lutein and zeaxanthin; indoles and isothiocyanates
Lutein and zeaxanthin are present in the lens, retina and macula. Their antioxidant action protects the eyes against ultraviolet rays.
Excellent sources are kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collards, dandelion greens, turnip greens and mustard greens. Pistachios, kiwi and avocados are some other good additions.
Indoles and isothiocyanates are present in cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts.
They have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Some examples are garlic, onions, jicama, parsnips, potatoes, turnip, celery root, kohlrabi, cauliflower, white beans. Jerusalem artichokes stands out as one of the few foods able to assist the liver on its two phases during the process of eliminating harmful chemicals.
Note that a whole food is always more powerful and balanced than any phytochemical by itself. So, let’s take advantage of the largest availability of fruits and veggies during summer and try to incorporate more of them into your day.
Here are some suggestions.
- Smoothies are a great way to pack fruits and veggies. Think bananas, avocado, berries, kiwi, spinach, beets…start with the ones that you are familiar with and slowly add new flavours. It is also a good way to hide a flavour you are not crazy about, but you know you can benefit from.
- Salads that are whole meals. Besides bringing together a variety of veggies, you can also add chickpeas or beans, nuts, seeds, fresh or dried fruit. Mix and match according to your taste, but try to step out of your comfort zone and experiment with new flavours and textures. The same idea can be adapted to stir-frys and veggie chillis.
- Homemade trail mix is the perfect snack due to its combination of nuts and dried fruits. Try some goji berries that are very high in antioxidants.
- Zucchini noodles. They are easier to make with a spiralizer, but doable without it as well – just cut very thin stripes and cook with olive oil, garlic, sea salt and black pepper. Then add an easy to prepare sauce such as tomato or pesto.
- Soups are one of the easiest ways of bringing several veggies together. Beans, lentils and even some fruits such as apples are nice additions. If you have picky eaters, blend it.
- Fruit salads. Make sure to make it as colourful as possible. For instance: pears, tangerines, watermelon, blueberries – these are just some ideas for you to adjust according to your taste and what you have available. Try new combinations.
Homemade popsicles. Blend two of your favorite fruits and add some coconut milk for creaminess. If it is a little too tart, add a little bit of maple syrup.
- Fermented veggies, such as cabbage, cucumbers, carrots – virtually any veggie. They can be eaten as a side dish or added to soups, fried rice, salsa, even baking goods.
- Dips and spreads. Roasted red peppers, eggplant, spinach, artichokes – they all can the base for nutritious and delicious spreads. If you need to add some creaminess and cannot or don’t want to have yogurt, try soaked cashew nuts.