Benefits of a Plant Based Lifestyle
A Palette of Vibrant Health
Rainbows. We see them everywhere, from the sky to paintings, greeting cards, sidewalks, and flags. They have come to be known as symbols of good fortune, hope, and happiness. They are an image that represents love, friendship, and diversity. But did you know that another wonderful place to find a rainbow is right on your plate?
As it turns out, your folks were really on to something when they urged you to “eat your veggies” as a kid. In honor of June being National Fruit and Vegetable Month, we’re going to inspire you to do just as they said.
But don’t worry... eating your vegetables, and getting your own kids to, doesn’t have to be boring or mean that you’re on a strict diet of broccoli and Brussels sprouts (though they are wonderful options, and happen to be two of our personal favorites)! So, to help make eating your fruits and veggies interesting, we’re going to get creative and paint a beautiful rainbow of them across your plate.
Now, you might be wondering, “What does a rainbow have to do with food?” Well, as you might already know, fruits and vegetables contain a diverse variety of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, and come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. But did you know that each color actually holds significance and symbolizes specific benefits and unique properties? Let's delve into what gives them their beautiful variety of colors.
Believe it or not, it’s actually the plant's own nutrients, known as Phytonutrients, that are attributed to giving fruits and vegetables their diverse array of hues, as well as their distinctive tastes and aromas. These chemical compounds also increase the plant's immune system, and help protect them from environmental threats, such as disease, fungi, bacteria, pests, and excessive sun.
And guess what? When you consume plants, you also reap benefits from their phytonutrients! Eating foods rich in phytonutrients can help with boosting your own immune system, regulating your hormones, and aid in reducing inflammation, thus protecting you from chronic diseases. They can even protect your cells and DNA from damage, and prevent damaged cells (such as cancerous) from reproducing!
But phytonutrients aren’t alone when it comes to taking credit for creating the colors of our food and the benefits they provide. Polyphenols also play a role. Polyphenols are strong antioxidants that help keep free radicals under control in your body. The more vibrantly colored the food is, the more polyphenols it contains, though even the smallest amounts of them send beneficial messages to your cells to make their own antioxidants.
As each group of colors holds specific properties and nutrients, scientists agree that diversity is key, and the wider the variety of food we eat, the broader the spectrum of benefits we reap! So let’s take a closer look at each of the rainbow’s colors, and the significant benefits they provide and get on to painting that rainbow across your plate.
First up on our palette we’ve got Red:
Red-colored foods contain the phytonutrient Lycopene, which can help protect against prostate cancer, heart and lung disease, and the harmful effects of sunlight. They are high in vitamins A and C, potassium and antioxidants, and help keep skin, bones, and hair healthy. Potassium is important for properly functioning nerves, muscles, and blood vessels, keeping blood pressure at optimal levels. And Vitamin C is essential for good gum and oral health.
Apples and tomatoes are obvious choices when thinking red, but beets, cherries, raspberries, watermelon, radishes, and red peppers of all varieties are excellent options as well!
Next on the spectrum, we have our Oranges and Yellows:
Orange and Yellow-shaded foods also contain high amounts of vitamins A and C, as well as a group of phytonutrients known as Carotenoids. Both vitamin A and Carotenoids (think carrots!) are linked to healthy eyes and vision. Along with vitamin C, vitamin A is also great for boosting our immune systems, as both have strong antioxidant properties. And the nutrients in citrus fruit in particular are shown to be beneficial for increasing blood circulation!
Here in Florida, oranges, mangoes, and bananas can be great local options for getting your oranges and yellows covered. Further north, peaches, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, corn, and, of course, carrots make for a good local variety.
Now let’s dip our brushes in some Green:
Green foods contain the phytonutrient Lutein, also known as, “the eye vitamin”. Dark leafy greens contain the highest amounts of Lutein, which is also beneficial for the skin, protecting it from UV damage and UVB radiation. Greens are great sources of vitamin K, calcium, and potassium, which are essential for good blood, bone, and heart health. They also contain folate, a vitamin especially important during pregnancy as it helps protect against congenital disabilities.
Anything green is a go, like peas, kiwi, zucchini and asparagus, but dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collards, and romaine have the highest amounts of antioxidants and fiber.
And finally, onto those deep Blue and Purple hues:
Anthocyanins are the phytonutrients responsible for giving blue and purple foods their beautiful tones and are associated with improved brain health and memory. They can also help lower blood pressure and keep skin looking young. Our blues and purples have been highly studied for their anti-cancer and anti-aging properties, and have been shown to reduce the risks of stroke and type 2 diabetes. They are also great for supporting a healthy urinary tract and inflammatory response.
Fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, plums, and figs are excellent choices in this color group, while red grapes are extra high in polyphenols. Purple cabbage and potatoes, red onions, and eggplant are wonderful veggie options to finish off creating a rainbow of food across your plate.
So, now that we’ve painted a pretty picture of the array of health benefits fruits and veggies provide, as well given an abundant variety of them for you to choose from, let’s touch briefly on preparation.
Eating raw fruits and veggies is great for keeping the integrity of their nutrients, and can also be an easy, quick and convenient on-the-go option. Feel free to take them for a dip in some hummus or nut butters for a little added flavor!
For some of us, however, eating raw foods can be a little harder on our digestive systems, so eating cooked foods might be more beneficial. And of course, cooking our foods can add lots of creative flare, flavor, and variety to our palate! When cooking your veggies, it’s important to be mindful of the methods you use. Gently steaming is generally the best option in terms of keeping the integrity of cooked foods’ nutrients, but lightly sautéing, baking, and grilling are all yummy methods as well. Just be careful not to overcook your veggies as they will lose much of their benefits to you in doing so.
Another fun way to mix lots of colors into your diet is by blending fruits (and veggies!) into a smoothie! If you’ve got a blender at home, you might like to try out this Rainbow Smoothie recipe:
- 1 cup spinach (or other leafy green)
- 1 cup mixed berries, such as cherry, raspberry, strawberry, and blueberry
- 1 banana
- 8 oz liquid of choice, such as coconut water or a plant based milk
*Pro tip: use frozen fruit for a thicker smoothie, and chilled fruit for a thinner consistency. To help with getting your greens mixed in thoroughly, place them in the blender first at the bottom and pile the rest of the ingredients on top.
For those of you who live or are visiting us in Key West, visit us at The Green Pineapple Cafe and treat yourself to our unique plant based menu. If you’re craving a taste of the rainbow in one meal, try our delicious Rainbow Wrap. It includes the full spectrum of colors and flavors with red radishes, carrots, edamame and pea hummus, spinach, and purple cabbage, all rolled up in an easy-to-eat, gluten-free sweet potato wrap.
Cheers to National Fruit and Vegetable Month! May you be inspired to paint a rainbow across your plate as a symbol of vibrant health.