Colorful Fruits & Veggies!

We are often given the advice to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables (which have a variety of different colors). Good advice of course; even common sense would tell us that. However, “eat a lot of fruits and vegetables” is vague advice because it could mean eating only apples and broccoli (red and green), and nothing else, but eating “a lot” of them. To take that advice to the next level, a better recommendation would be to eat a WIDE VARIETY of fruits and vegetables (not just “a lot”).Even “wide variety” is not really defined. What is a wide variety? Did you know that there are hundreds of different types of fruits and veggies? To make an even greater distinction, you could begin to sort your fruits and vegetables by color and eat several types every day (at least 5 to 9 servings) and an even wider variety spread over the span of each week.Why would you go to all the trouble? Well, each various food color is indicative of the phytonutrients and other healthful nutritional compounds found within these foods. According to the textbook Sports & Exercise Nutrition by Katch, Katch & McArdle), over 4000 phytochemicals have been identified, and 150 of them have been studied in detail.By definition, phytonutrients (also called phytochemicals) are naturally occurring, health promoting compounds found in the plant kingdom. There has been much research on the functional properties of these compounds, proving that they play important and diverse roles in maintaining your health and protecting you from disease. Foods such as tomatoes (red), carrots (orange), broccoli (green), blueberries (blue) all contain important phytochemicals that play specific roles in health and disease prevention. Onions, whole grains, herbs, spices and other foods also contain their own special types of protective phytochemicals.Here are some of the phytochemicals and naturally health-promoting compounds and the foods they correspond to:

  • FLAVONOIDS (quercitin, kaempferol, myricetin, catechins)
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Berries
  • Citrus fruits
  • Onions
  • Purple grapes
  • Tea CAROTENOIDS (luten, lycopene, zeaxanthin, a-carotene, b-carotene)
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Cantaloupe
  • Apricots GLUCOSINOLATES (glucobrassicin, isothiocyanates, indoles)
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage SULFIDES (allium compounds, dithiolthiones)
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • scallions

Each of these compounds has a health promoting role in the body ranging from antioxidant activity to cancer protection. There is much more going on here than just building muscle and shedding body fat. Eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and other natural foods has major health and quality of life implications.It’s great news to know how much control we can take over our health and physical fitness simply with proper food choices (and proper exercise). The only thing about these discoveries that saddens and disappoints me is that it seems each time our scientists discover something, such as lycopene in tomatoes for example, someone wants to put it in a bottle and sell it to us. (Why not just go to the source and eat the damn tomatoes?????)I believe in an intelligent creator, and I believe that the creator of our bodies and this universe we live in, knew exactly what she was doing when she created the marvelous diversity of plants and animals that comprise our food supply. Although it may be prudent in this modern industrial age to take a multi vitamin/mineral supplement and maybe an essential fatty acid supplement for “nutritional insurance,” everything you need can be found in your food.If you think about what the discovery of all these naturally occurring compounds really means, you will have to agree that food truly is the most powerful drug. Combine that with recent discoveries in physiology and psychoneoruoimmunology proving that our bodies are their own self-regulating natural pharmacies, and you also have to agree that the natural way is the best way.In any case, it’s definitely not enough to think only in terms of calories and macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats). Energy needs and macronutrient needs are important, but also think about your nutrition in terms of a wide variety of natural foods, and that includes a wide variety of colors.