Paint your plate with phytochemical foods

Color is a key element of the full sensory experience of eating and plays a big role in making food attractive and desirable. That’s why it makes perfect sense that nature’s most nutrient-dense foods are designed to be colorful.

Food has the amazing power to influence everything from your mood to overall health. You can maximize your body’s potential for radiantly-good health by fueling your body with a rainbow of plants. You will feel light and energized from eating this way instead of having that sleepy, sluggish feeling a “beige” diet of processed, refined foods leaves you with.

Think of your plate as a canvas; add splashes of vibrant, vivid colors to optimize nutrient density and to shower your body with the entire phytochemical spectrum.

What are phytochemicals, you ask? Phytochemicals are plant compounds that provide cell-protective antioxidant power and impart different colors to plant foods. That’s why it’s so important to think in terms of eating from the rainbow. More than 10,000 phytochemicals have been found and scientists speculate there are several thousand more yet to be discovered. 

blueberries-in-cartons
Blueberries get their color from anthocyanins, which help protect the brain from oxidative stress.

Plants produce phytochemicals to protect themselves from environmental threats such as the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When we eat plant foods, they impart these protective properties to our bodies and offer disease prevention in a number of complex ways.

For example, lycopene is responsible for the red coloring of watermelon and tomatoes and offers skin protection from the sun, while anthocyanins give blueberries their deep-blue hue and can help slow age-related memory loss by protecting the brain from oxidative stress. Lutein and zeaxanthin provide emerald green coloring to broccoli, kale and spinach and play a key role in maintaining healthy vision.

Phytochemical foods exert their antioxidant power by shielding our cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Each phytochemical has a fancy scientific name, but all you have to remember is to eat the rainbow in plant foods every day and you will get the full spectrum of phytochemicals.

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Colorful ideas for painting your plate:

  • Swap pale iceberg lettuce for dark-green arugula or spinach. The richer the color, the more phytochemicals present. 
  • Stir berries (fresh or frozen) into cereal, oatmeal or yogurt. For an even greater antioxidant boost, eat a mix of berries. Shopping tip: Frozen produce is often more nutrient-dense than fresh. 
  • Jazz up salads by adding orange or grapefruit segments, apple or nectarine slices, sliced beets, dried cherries or pomegranate seeds.
  • Add grated carrots and zucchini to pasta sauce, turkey burgers or meatloaf for moisture and a pop of color.
  • Stuff color into sandwiches with sliced apple, avocado, cucumber, spinach and/or sprouts. 
  • Spread creamy avocado onto whole-wheat toast and top with slices of juicy tomato for a plant-powered snack.
  • Mix fresh herbs and chopped tomato or red bell pepper into your scrambled eggs.

Eating clean by going green

The energetic and radiant hue of emerald green makes it easy to become obsessed with the color. Green also happens to be the color of many in-season foods. So why not go ahead and add splashes of green to your plate?

Bright green is symbolic of in-season green-hued foods bursting with flavor and nutrients. You will be well on your way to “cleaning” your diet by incorporating these free-radical absorbing foods.

Kari Kooi, a registered dietician at Houston Methodist, says “eating clean is a buzzword for a wholesome, unprocessed diet that drastically limits ultra-processed foods made from inferior ingredients while embracing whole foods like fruits and vegetables.”  

There’s no better time to start eating clean and green. Here are five green powerhouse foods to help brighten your plate.

Asparagus

Looking for a natural anti-ager? Emerging in the springtime, these green spears offer a bounty of nutrients. Asparagus is high in glutathione, an antioxidant that can help reduce skin damage from the sun. Additionally, asparagus contains the most folate of any vegetable. Folate plays a vital role in heart health and the prevention of birth defects.

Avocado

Add some thin slices of smooth avocado to your sandwich or salad without feeling guilty. The monounsaturated fat in avocado is what’s mostly responsible for avocado’s super food status. This type of happy fat can help drive down levels of bad cholesterol. 

Brussels sprouts

These baby cabbages are loaded with antioxidants and filling fiber. A cruciferous vegetable, Brussels sprouts contain powerful, cancer-fighting sulfur compounds that are responsible for their pungent aroma. These green jewels take on a whole new flavor and crispy texture when roasted in the oven.

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Fresh Kale
Did you know kale is a better source of calcium than spinach? This is due to its lower levels of oxalic acid.

Kale

This beautiful ruffled green is being called “the queen of greens.” Kale is brimming with eye-nourishing carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, a pair of phytochemicals that has been shown to prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. Additionally, kale is a better source of calcium than spinach as it has lower levels of oxalic acid, a compound that interferes with calcium absorption.

Kiwifruit

Rich in vitamin C, potassium and fiber, kiwis make a perfectly portable snack. Just slice a kiwi in half and scoop out the emerald flesh with a spoon. You will dazzle your body with nutrients. This sweet and tart fruit has a unique taste, with flavors reminiscent of strawberry, banana, melon, pineapple, and citrus