Vegetables contain an under-rated powerhouse of phytonutrients that are vital for our bodies to function correctly and optimally.
Superfoods are often given huge media attention as a source of phytonutrients, however, there is just no need to invest in exotic superfoods and superfood powders that often cost a fortune. Not when the usual vegetables we have available to us are all we need to thrive when eaten alongside small quantities of fruits and other phytonutrient food sources such as whole grains and legumes.
The key is to eat them in the amounts we need! The Institute for Functional Medicine recommends for optimal health, we eat 9-12 servings of phytonutrients a day, with these being made up of 2 servings from each of the food colour lists below:
- Red – examples include apples, beans, beetroot, bell peppers, onions, strawberries and rhubarb.
- Orange – examples include carrots, mango, pumpkin, butternut squash, sweet potato, turmeric root and yams.
- Yellow – examples include banana, bell peppers, corn, ginger root, millet and pineapple.
- Green – examples include avocado, bamboo sprouts, bok choy, broccoli, cucumbers, green beans and Swiss chard.
- Blue/Purple/Black – examples include blueberries, blackberries, cabbage, carrots, eggplant, figs and black rice.
- White/Tan/Brown – examples include bean dips, cauliflower, legumes, mushrooms, nuts, shallots and brown rice.
Why Do We Need Phytonutrients?
The benefits of eating phytonutrients in the right amounts daily is huge! From anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, cell protection, skin health, cognition, hormonal health, liver health to bone health. The list is longer than this but food education helps us to understand the why we need to eat something and is the only way you begin to learn to eat healthily. As it doesn’t just ‘happen’.
How To Fall In Love With Phytonutrients
Now I’ve covered what phytonutrients are and why they are important to be eaten in abundance (daily), let’s explore how to learn to love them!
- Go slowly – If your current diet is not rich in the rainbow of phytonutrients, then work towards learning to love a variety of new phytonutrient-rich foods each week.
- Consciously choose new – When writing your shopping list, be sure to add to your list 1-2 new fresh phytonutrient foods each week and try them out in your current dishes or try them in new recipes (if time allows).
- Do not rush – It is totally normal to need to repeat your exposure to new phytonutrient foods, as you are learning to love them. But also some you just might not enjoy ever, and that is okay! There are plenty of phytonutrient foods to choose from to be able to have a sufficient variety that suits your personal taste and helps you achieve your daily 9-12 a day.
- Be prepared – A good way to boost your daily intake of phytonutrients is to swap out any unhealthy processed snacks for whole food fresh options like raw vegetables, steamed vegetables, beans turned into dips and muffins filled with vegetables like sweet potatoes. In the Western world, the norm has become that when we are hungry between meals, crisps and chocolate fill this gap. However, by becoming conscious to what we are choosing to eat and preparing a shopping list, we can slowly reset our habits to gravitate towards healthy fresh live food.
- Get the whole family involved – This might mean making a meal and snack plan that includes meal and snack recipes chosen by every member of the house, with everyone cooking 1-2 meals and/or snacks each week. This also takes the pressure off just one person cooking all the time. It is often this lack of capacity (from one person) that often drives people to choose unhealthy food options low in phytonutrients in the first place at meal and snack times. This step also helps people relearn the art of cooking (which is a great skill especially for growing children) and promotes a sense of community within the household, that can often bring more joy and fun to mealtimes all on its own!
There are no hard and fast rules for learning to love phytonutrient-rich foods, but I hope these inspire you to learn to love them or learn to love more of them. As we all get stuck in a rut from time to time, and this is often filtered down to the meals we make.
Eating is, after all, a joy, and can provide us with great quality of life if only we choose to invest and give it the attention it deserves.