What if the key to preventing chronic diseases could be found in the produce aisle? What if an apple a day really did help keep the doctor away? The answer could be found in the natural chemicals of plant-based foods. These chemicals are called phytonutrients. One of the most important factors of finding the root cause of symptoms is proper nutrition. Let’s take a closer look at phytonutrients, their benefits, and how food can be medicine.
Phytonutrients, sometimes referred to as phytochemicals, help protect plants from germs, fungi, bugs, and other threats. We can borrow this same defense from plants to naturally protect our bodies from cancer, inflammation, and other chronic illnesses. Dr. Adrienne Carmack explains that these plant-based nutrients, like beta-carotene in oranges, do differ from vitamins and minerals.
Think of phytonutrients as a defense system for your health, just waiting to be unlocked with each serving you eat.
A well-received principal across functional medicine is that food can bring powerful healing for our bodies when used appropriately. The Institute for Functional Medicine says that “when high-quality nutrition is applied effectively and consistently, it can prevent future chronic disease in adolescents, enhance cognition in people with dementia, and improve outcomes in patients receiving colorectal and GI oncological surgeries, to name a few. Moreover, in patients who have hospital stays for any reason, nutrition support is associated with fewer infectious complications and shorter length of stays.”
The food choices we make daily – orange juice or lattes, spinach salad or hamburgers, and ice cream or fresh fruit – all contribute to our whole health and the future effects on the body. That’s why it’s important to get between 9-13 servings of plant-based foods per day to help prevent chronic diseases or 3-4 servings per meal.
The best way to incorporate more phytonutrients in your diet is to fill your plate with COLOR! By creating meals and snacks in an array of colors, you are able to foster a variety of health benefits, while easily reaching your recommended serving amount.
Make it you goal to eat the rainbow spectrum, foods of each color, and know the benefits each can provide. All of the foods listed below are anti-cancer, and many are anti-inflammatory.
Here are a few examples from each color, and all of the benefits they can provide:
Red: apples, bell peppers, raspberries, tomato – anti-inflammatory, cell protection, gastrointestinal health, heart health, hormone health, liver health
Orange: oranges, carrots, sweet potato, turmeric – anti-bacterial, immune health, cell protection, reduced mortality, reproductive health, skin health, and a source of vitamin A
Yellow: Banana, lemon, ginger root, summer squash – anti-inflammatory, cell protection, cognition, eye health, heart health, skin health, vascular health
Green: Avocado, broccoli, kale, zucchini – anti-inflammatory, brain health, cell protection, skin health, hormone balance, heart health, liver health
Blue/Purple/Black: Berries, eggplant, olives, black rice – anti-inflammatory, cell protection, cognitive health, heart health, liver health
White/Tan/Brown: Cauliflower, coconut, mushrooms, seeds – antimicrobial, cell protection, gastrointestinal health, heart health, hormone health, liver health
At Integrative Health Matters, it is important to us that each patient listens to their body and feels confident about what is right for them. In addition to the personalized care we provide, we also have a fully stocked library of resources. A few of these resources include the Phytonutrient Spectrum listed above, healthy recipes, and books to borrow or purchase. We also offer cooking classes and free events open to the community about how to incorporate more nutrient-dense foods in your diet.