Nutrition

The Power of Pigments

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Hey rebels! I’m planning on writing more nutrition-related posts to highlight the importance of my cooking series. I hope that understanding some of the nutritional foundations of these foods will encourage you to incorporate them into your diets regularly. So I’d like to start off with why we should EAT MORE PLANTS. Although I am not a vegetarian (and don’t plan on becoming one anytime soon), I still believe in the importance of a primarily plant-based diet. Foods derived from plants have tons and tons of benefits for our bodies, this is why you can never eat too much of them (unless they’re fried or smothered in delicious butter). I’d say the 2 main benefits of plants are their high fiber content and their plant-specific phytonutrients (aka phytochemicals). Today, I’d like to give you all a breakdown of what phytonutrients are and why they’re so critical to our health.

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The word “phytonutrient” sounds intense but all it’s referring to are the natural pigments in plants that also nourish our bodies. Not to get all “big fat greek wedding” on you, but the work “phyto” in Greek means “plant”, so these are just nutrients that can only be found in plants. Not only to phytonutrients give plants their gorgeous deep hues, but they’re what help protect their respectful plant from possible threats to its health, like UV damage and insects. So it only makes sense that these natural-occurring chemicals help out with our wellbeing too. For us, these powerful pigments act as antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, enhance our immunity,  help detoxify carcinogens, act as enzymes that aid with metabolism, and many many more.

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Here’s a list of the different phytonutrients and what they do for you–

Carotenoids

These phytonutrients provide the yellow, red, and orange pigments and act as antioxidants on your body. In your body, these compounds convert into vitamin A, which we all know is needed for eye health and helps prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.

alpha and beta carotene

Neutralizes free radicals, has antioxidant properties.

Carrots, butternut squash, cantaloupe, sweet potato, pumpkin, oranges, bell peppers, tomatoes

lutein and xeaxanthin

Reduces risk of colon, breast, lung, and skin cancer.

Spinach, kale, collards, corn, citrus

lycopene

Reduces risk of prostate cancer and preserves bone health.

Tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, guava, watermelon

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ellagic acid

Functions as antioxidant and causes cancer cell death. Also has antiviral and antibacterial properties.

Strawberries, raspberries, pomegranates, cranberries, walnuts

diallyl Sulfides

Promote heart health, and boosts the production of enzymes that are crucial to energy metabolism and immune function

Onion, garlic, scallions, leeks, chives

Flavonoids

These phytonutrients are famous for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, but they also aid in heart health, support our nervous system, and reduce risk of certain cancers. Flavonoids are comprised of all different colors, including yellow, green, red, orange, blue, purple, brown, white.

anthocyanins

Antioxidant properties, contributes to heart, vision, and brain function, reduces the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.

Berries, cherries, red grapes

lignans

Boots immune function and contribute to heart health, blocks hormone related cancers.

Flaxseed, pumpkin seed, poppy seed, sesame seed, whole grains, beans, berries

flavonols

Reduces risk of certain types of cancer, heart disease, and asthma

Apples, berries, kale, onions

proanthocyanidins

Contributes to urinary tract health and heart health

Cranberries, cocoa, cinnamon, peanuts, wine, grapes, strawberries

phenols

May boost antioxidant defense, maintains healthy vision

Apples, pears, citrus fruits, parsley, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, squash, yams, tomatoes

phytoestrogens

Contribute to healthy bones, brain function, and may lower cancer risk

Soybeans

plant stanols and sterols

Boosts the benefits of a heart healthy diet, reducing the risk of heart disease

Corn, soy, wheat, peanut oil, fortified foods

Resveratrol

Acts as antioxidant, has anti-inflammatory properties, heart health.

Purple grapes, red wine

Glucosinolates

Lowers risk of certain types of cancer

Brussels Sprouts, cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, watercress, bok choy

Organosulfuric compounds

Fights cancer cell growth, treats arthritic joints

Garlic, onions, chives, citrus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts

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So now that you know how amazing these pigments are for you, what do you do now?

Making sure you eat a variety of plant-based foods (fruits, veggies, beans, grains, nuts and seeds) from the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and white color categories will ensure that your body is getting the right combination of nutrients to perform at its best.

Make a goal that you think would be realistic, like “I’ll eat 3 different colors a day”, or if you’re an overachiever try 6 or 7! Or try 2 colors in every meal. The more colorful the better*

*this does not include m&m’s, skittles, sour patch, starburst, or fruit loops. Lucky charms….maybe

Let me know if you guys find this info useful or have any questions about it. I’d love some feedback, as this is one of my first nutrition posts.

Reference:                      
Mahan, L. Kathleen, Raymond, Janice L., Escott-Stump, Sylvia. Krause’s Food & the Nutrition Care Process. 13th ed. St. Louis (Mo.): Elsevier, 2011. Print.                          

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