Did you know that richly colored fruits and vegetables are better for your health? That’s why I always tell my clients to eat the rainbow! The color of each fruit and veggie corresponds to a different phytochemical, and each color has various benefits for the body. Phytochemicals can protect against certain illnesses like cancers, heart disease, and diabetes.
The typical Western diet is deficient in phytochemicals because we’re used to eating many processed foods (most of which either have no vibrant colors or are artificially colored). The best way to boost your health with phytochemicals is by eating a large variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables – think foods that are deep reds, yellows, greens, blues, and purples.
More than 50,000 different phytochemicals are available in fruits and veggies. Common phytochemicals include sulforaphane, polyphenols, carotenoids, lignans, glycosides, anthocyanin, indoles, lutein, and phenolic. They provide a fruit or vegetable with color, flavor, and scents. Phytochemicals can even act as a plant’s protector by repelling predators and guarding against bacteria and other pathogens. Our bodies use phytochemicals in a similar way! Read on to learn how.
While it’s possible to live a long life without consuming phytochemicals, research shows that phytochemicals can improve the quality of life and enhance longevity. Plus, there are no downsides to consuming phytochemicals. Without phytochemicals, you are more at risk for cancer, COPD, diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses. In sum, without phytochemicals, your quality of life is likely to be majorly reduced.
Common Plant Sources:
- Berries: contain anthocyanin that slows aging, protects the heart, prevents blood clots, and is anti-inflammatory.
- Cruciferous veggies: contain indoles that prevent cancer-causing chemicals from forming. Some cruciferous veggies like broccoli are excellent sources of sulforaphane, a potent phytochemical that can boost enzymes and antioxidants.
- Leafy greens: contain lutein that prevents macular degeneration and breast cancer.
- Citrus fruits: contain phenolics that slow aging, protect the heart, and prevent tumors and inflammation.
The anti-inflammatory properties of phytochemicals are a fabulous aid to the gut. Phytochemicals can improve Crohn’s disease, diabetes, and obesity symptoms. A 2019 study found that phytochemicals are also essential for bouncing back from a round of antibiotics. They can help maintain and grow healthy bacteria in the gut and prevent harmful bacteria from growing.
Phytochemicals like polyphenols, carotenoids, and glycosides can all positively impact the gut microbiome. Similar to a prebiotic, polyphenols foster the growth of good bacteria in the gut, carotenoids alter gut bacteria for the better, and glycosides provide energy to the gut. Broccoli, carrots, and spinach are rich in polyphenols and carotenoids, and stone fruits and lima beans contain lots of glycosides.
Organic vs. Conventional
When buying fruits and veggies, it’s always best to go for organic! There are more phytochemicals in organic plants than in conventional produce. For example, research indicates that organic apples have more phytochemicals (and flavor!) than apples that are sprayed with pesticides to be protected from bugs. For more information on when to buy organic, read my guide on when to buy organic.
Fresh vs. Supplements
Phytochemicals are most potent in produce when it is super fresh. When fruit and vegetables get old, their cellular structure breaks down and gets less valuable. A great way to tell if produce is fresh is to check the color vibrancy. If the produce isn’t vibrantly colored, it means some important phytochemicals have been diminished.
Although eating the rainbow through fruit and vegetables is best, supplementation can be a good option when you’re in a pinch. Supplements rich in phytochemicals like sulforaphane are an excellent option for those who can’t consume enough fresh produce.
Making sure that you’re getting enough of each phytochemical can be confusing! I’d love to help. Book a one-on-one session with me if you’re looking for tips on adding more phytochemicals to your diet.