Given our current situation, a lot of people are focusing on various ways that they can support their immune system. “Eating the Rainbow” is something that you may have heard before – it is an easy way to increase the number of phytonutrients that you are being exposed to. Every colour has their own set of health benefits. Therefore, the more colour you include in your diet, the bigger your variety of benefits.
Here is a little more information on the different phytonutrients and their benefits:
Where do we find Phytonutrients?
Fruits and vegetables, as well as other plant-based foods such as whole grains, nuts, beans and certain teas contain these bioactive “power-compounds”. Unlike vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients aren’t considered essential for health. They optimize and promote better health, but biological reactions still function without them. There is however minimised protection against disease without a variety of them present in the diet. Although there are more than 25,000 phytonutrients identified, lets look at four of the better known phytonutrients and their benefits:
Lets classify them
The most common carotenoids are beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein found in purple, white, red, green and orange plant foods. These compounds affect cell signalling and messaging and as such have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers. Lutein specifically has a role in optimal eye health as well as preventing uterine, prostate, breast, and lung cancers.
The highest levels of ellagic acid are found in blackberries, cranberries, pecans, pomegranates, raspberries, strawberries, walnuts and grapes. Ellagic acid has been shown to significantly inhibit cell processes that result in multiplication and movement of cancer cells. As such, this powerful plant compound has been linked to cancer prevention, particularly cancers of the prostate and breast.
Flavonoids are phenolic compounds found in berries, legumes, tea, grapes, olive oil, cocoa, walnuts, peanuts, spices, fruits, green vegetables and onions. Flavonoids form a very diverse group of compounds with more than 5000 different bioactive nutrients being identified in this group alone. Among the biological activities, flavonoids act against damaging free radicals that destroy cells and interfere with optimal cell growth and healing.
Resveratrol is a natural compound made by plants in stressed conditions or when under attack from harmful bacteria. It is found in high concentrations in the skin of purple grapes, strawberries, blueberries, mulberries, peanuts and red wine. It is a neuroprotective compound that contributes to improved brain health. It has beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system due to its antioxidant properties that preserve the functioning of cells in the arteries.
In a nutshell
Phytonutrients pack a powerful punch when it comes to improving health and supporting your immune system. These compounds are like little soldiers patrolling and protecting the blood vessels and cells that make up the vital organs of the body. The super soldiers defend against disease and damage and ensure optimal cell growth, repair and health. To enjoy the benefits of this army, eat a wide variety of plant based food sources in their most natural state, aiming for a minimum of five portions per day. Focus specifically on filling your plate with a variety of colours of the rainbow – you don’t need to have all the colours on your plate at one time, but aim for 1-3 different colours.
Note – during this time (lockdown) when fresh groceries are scarce and trips to the grocery store are limited, make use of frozen fruits and vegetables. They are still packed with great nutrients.