Eat your peas, Louise. And your beets and bananas and apricots and plums and cabbage. We already discussed the importance of eating a variety of food in order to obtain the nutrients we require. Now, I want to share with you even more reason to do so! Aside from obtaining calories, vitamins, and minerals from the foods we eat, we can also obtain phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are compounds found in plant-derived foods that can prevent the development of chronic diseases. They can even be found in spices, wine, and chocolate--and I like chocolate!
Just as each classes of food can provide different nutrients, different colors of foods also provide different phytochemicals! Red foods like beets, cherries, red potatoes, and watermelon are rich in the phytochemicals anthrocyanins and lycopene. Anthrocyanins may protect against the effects of aging while lycopene may play a role in defending against cancer and heart disease through protecting our DNA from damage.
White-brown foods such as mushrooms, onions, garlic, and cauliflower contain allicin and allyl sulfides which may lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure while also protecting against stomach cancer.
Apricots, cantaloupe, lemons, and squash are rich in beta-carotene and limonene. Beta-carotene has been associated with a number of great benefits. It may slow aging, protect against some cancers, improve against lung function, and reduce complications of diabetes. On the other hand, limonene may also play a role in preventing cancer.
Foods like blackberries, eggplant, purple figs, and raisins are rich in anthocyanins, ellagic acid, and phenolics. Ellagic acid protects against cancer in a number of different ways like through slowing the growth of cancer cells. Phenolics may aid in inducing enzyme production to make cancer causing substances water soluble so that they may be excreted.
Lastly, green foods like artichokes, arugula (a personal favorite), celery, and cucumbers are rich in beta-carotene, lutein, and indoles. Lutein helps to protect our eyes against muscular degeneration while indoles may induce the production of enzymes that block DNA damage from carcinogens
I have mentioned only a few of the tens of thousands of phytochemicals out there. Each food has its own unique array of phytochemicals and those phytochemicals may have multiple influences within our bodies. In an effort to incorporate more phytochemicals to our diet, let's set the goal of trying something new on our next shopping trip whether it be a spice, fruit, vegetable, or whole grain. If you stepped out of your comfort zone and did not like it, don't fret! There are plenty of other new things to try! If you stepped out of your comfort zone and were confronted by a pleasant surprise, think of how many other foods are waiting for you to discover them! I can't wait to hear how much exploring you've done!
Nutrition information was obtained from Understanding Nutrition by Ellie Whitney and Sharon Rady Rolfes (2013).