When it comes to food and nutrition, nothing is more important to your diet than vegetables and fruits (sorry, keto). These powerhouses of nutrition carry the real superstars of the diet – micronutrients – known to most as vitamins and minerals. The incredible feature of these nutritious creations is that they house vitamins and minerals in what is called a food matrix, which basically refers to nutrients packed in with other nutrients that naturally occur in perfect proportion when humans and processing don’t get involved. And while we know relatively little about the complete food matrix of most foods, we do know that vitamins and minerals do not work in isolation, rather they work harmoniously to allow maximum absorption and usage by the body – yet another reason why food is always superior to supplements.
In addition to the vitamins and minerals themselves, plants also produce something called “phytonutrients” (or “fight-o-nutrients” as I like to call them, given their power) to protect themselves from pests, excess UV light, mold, and toxins. Phytonutrients provide plants with their colors, smell, and flavors. When we eat plants, their phytonutrients help protect us as well. Scientists believe there are over 4,000 phytonutrients in plants!
In humans, phytonutrients have the potential to boost immunity, reduce disease causing inflammation, prevent DNA damage and help with DNA repair, slow the growth rate of cancer cells, and work as antioxidants to reduce oxidative damage.
Studies show that a plant-focused diet can help boost our immune system, lower inflammation, and lower the risk of certain cancers, and heart disease. Plant-focused diets are known to be the best for everyone, for health promotion and disease prevention, as they are highest in phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Looking to maximize plant powerhouses? Below is a list of common phytonutrients, the foods they are in, and what they do to help us maintain our health.
|Phytonutrient||Proposed Benefits||Food Sources||Fun Facts|
|Think orange and dark, leafy green veggies|
|The heating process makes lycopene easier for the body to absorb. Add fat such as olive oil for best absorption.|
|This phytonutrient is found in the macula of the eye|
|1 cup of red grapes can have up to 1.25 mg of resveratrol|
|Anthocyanidins||Blood Vessel Health||Blueberries
|Think red and purple berries|
|Soybeans||½ cup of boiled soybeans offers 47 mg of isoflavones. Edamame – yum!|
So how do you incorporate these and other fight-o-nutrients and their amazing pro-health benefits into your diet? Follow these 4 strategies:
- Keep it Whole. Eat fruits and vegetables in their whole form, i.e. nothing added, nothing taken away – with skin (when appropriate).
- Think Color. Eat a wide variety of plants daily, aiming to consume as many different natural colors as possible. The darker the color, the more nutrients on board.
- Follow the Plate Method. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, choosing at least 3 different colors each plate to ensure a variety of micro- and phyto- nutrients.
- Eat Vegetables at Every Meal/Snack. Every snack, too?! Yup. Vegetables should take the lead at all times: eggs with spinach, watermelon radish “chips” with guacamole, zoodles (zucchini noodles) and meat sauce. Get creative and have fun!
The food philosophy at The Center for Discovery in unabashedly plant centric. Vegetables star daily in our dietary show. Plant focused menus make up the majority of our prescribed intake in order to maximize the healing benefits of these foods for our residents.
Not a fan of vegetables (gasp)? Here are a few ways to make them more palatable for your picky plant palate.
- Blend. Add your dark leafys to a protein smoothie in the morning. Throw in some blueberries for more phytonutrients and you won’t even be seeing green (but your body sure will!).
- Roast. Roasting vegetables in an oven (with olive oil, salt, pepper) helps to bring out the natural sweetness and temper the bitterness in veggies. Brussel sprouts, broccoli, green beans, and cauliflower are total YUM this way (say kids everywhere).
- Bacon. Yes I said it. Add it. So veggies taste like, well, bacon.
Written by Jennifer Franck, MS, RDN, Assistant Chief of the Department of Nourishment Arts.