When a client first comes to see me, the first question he or she often asks is “But what can I eat?”
That’s a great question! Ironically, the answer isn’t always cut and dried. Why? Because we each have our own quirks that dictate what is going to benefit our bodies the most and what may actually harm us. You’ll hear this referred to as biochemical individuality or bio-individuality. Some people seem to tolerate every food under the sun, but most people who come to see me don’t, and they usually don’t realize it. They’ve developed food sensitivities they typically aren’t aware of. Part of our mission together is to uncover the foods that are causing harm and imbalance in their bodies. That said, we have to start somewhere, and one easy piece of advice I always give is:
EAT THE COLORS OF THE RAINBOW!
The more color you can get into your diet from a variety of fruits and vegetables, the more vitamins and minerals you’ll be consuming. You’ll also get a supply of naturally healthy carbs. All good. But the magic of deeply or brightly colored fruits and veggies lies in their phytonutrient value.
A phyto-what? What in the world is a phytonutrient and why do you need to consume them?
Phytonutrient are active compounds in plants that protect them from free radical attacks, pollution, toxins and ultraviolet rays from the sun. What scientists have discovered is that these same chemical compounds that protect and defend plants, can also protect and defend the cells of the human body against attack.
You’ve probably heard the term “free radicals.” We have a vague sense they aren’t good for us even if we’re not quite sure what they are. To put it simply, when our bodies are exposed to toxic attack, our cells react by creating free radicals - reactive molecules that can damage the integrity of our cells. Our DNA, cell membranes and cellular proteins are all at risk of being damaged by free radicals and this damage can result in a multitude of disease processes, including dementia, autoimmune diseases, heart disease and cancers (all now believed to have an inflammatory basis).
Enter phytonutrients. Enter the colors of the rainbow.
Each color of this gorgeous rainbow represents a different chemical compound that a plant produces to protect itself. Colorful red, deep purple, bright orange, dark green, sunny yellow…each represents a unique chemical defender of cellular health. Each of these phytonutrients acts as an antioxidant that breaks down the free radicals and sends them on their way. The more color you eat in your diet, the more antioxidant power your body has to work with and the shorter the length of time that free radicals hang out, doing their damage as precursors to chronic diseases.
In her book, The Wahls Protocol, Dr. Terry Wahls explains how she encourages her patients to routinely eat 3 cups of color each day to improve severe chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis. Dr. Wahls, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa Medical Center and herself a patient with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, has been able to put her own MS in remission through a multi-faceted approach that is diet and lifestyle centered. She and her team conduct research and clinical trials in her ongoing dedication to improving the lives of those affected by MS.
What Counts as “Color”?
While all fruits and vegetables that are brightly colored all the way through count, I suggest that you focus more on vegetables and the lower sugar fruits. These fruits would include all of the beautiful summertime berries such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, dewberries, and all of the regional and wild variations. Remember, you don’t have to wait for summer to enjoy these berries. Frozen, organic berries are available at many grocery stores – if you live near a Costco you can buy frozen organic berries in bulk year round. And I do suggest that you buy your berries organic. Yes, I know, it does cost more. But berries are some of the most heavily sprayed fruits and the pesticides pose their own issues, so they warrant this extra investment in your health. (We’ll discuss this more in a future post.) Just do your best! If you can’t afford organic, try buying local at your nearby farmer’s market and ask them if they spray and what they spray with. Wash your produce well. Eat color, however you can get it.
Notice I said “color all the way through.” That’s important. Fruits like pears, apples, and bananas are all fine fruits but these aren’t going to provide you with the same degree of disease fighting phytonutrients. Enjoy them but don’t count them in your 3 cups of color.
Three Cups Every Day? Really?
Remember, this isn’t an all or nothing proposition. Some is better than none. As a matter of fact, in my practice, I typically start my clients out on 2 cups of color (I am also asking them to eat 2 cups of packed leafy greens and 2 cups of sulfur veggies. More on that later.) Start where you are. Challenge yourself to get 1 cup of color in at each meal. It’s really quite easy.
Think of the different color families and try to include every color in your diet over the course of the week. Go to your favorite grocery store on a reconnaissance mission. Start really noticing the rainbow in the produce department. Make a list of the colors and what they include. Greens, reds, blue, purple (even black!), yellow, orange. Get out of your rut. Try snow peas and kiwis, cherries and red peppers, purple kale and prunes, apricots and summer squash.
One last word of advice. Don’t just buy them – eat them! Keep your food preparation simple and your gratitude for the rainbow high. And remember why you’re making this effort. You aren’t doing this because you want to spend your life fixating on food. You want to feel better so you can do the things that make your heart sing. The phyto rainbow can help you get there.
Health and hugs,