I don’t think they knew about phytonutrients

Jeff and I were sitting in one of our local eateries – Yeast in Mid-Valley, KL. A young couple were sitting next to us, having brunch. At the end of their meal, we noticed their plates – cleaned out completely, except for…..the vegetables.

There, a pile that covered half their plate, the red radicchio, green curly endive, tomatoes, other leafy greens, carrots,… you get the picture, I wish I’d taken one. Some years ago, I wouldn’t have noticed. But since coming to understand the value of eating nutrient-dense foods, I was…well, gob-smacked.

Did they know and understand the value of the food they’d just left behind? They hadn’t just left a bunch of leaves on their plate, they’d left behind a whole load of valuable phytonutrients.

It’s these natural compounds that give plants their different and distinctive colours – green, red, blue, purple, yellow, orange, white – all the colours of the rainbow. Although not labelled as “essential” nutrients, you’d get sick if you didn’t have them. They encompass antioxidants, like lycopene, anthocyanin, beta-carotene, and other nutrients such as isothiocyanate found in cruciferous vegetables.

In fact, these phytochemicals are produced by the plant to protect it against environmental stressors, and when we eat them, they “tell” our bodies to adapt and prepare for those environmental stressors too, which is one of the reasons why it makes sense to eat local. Amazingly clever, don’t you think? It’s called “xenohormesis”.

Phytochemicals help boost the immune system, help the body get rid of toxins, stimulate the death of cancer cells and even promote healthy oestrogen metabolism, among other things. They’re also associated with reducing the risk of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, as well as decreased risk of dementia or cognitive decline. And get this, the University of Otago also found that consumption of more fruits and vegetables was associated with greater flourishing in daily life.

So, are you getting your five-a-day? Actually, throw that straight out of the window! Why? Because it’s a public health message – meaning that it’s aimed at the lowest possible denominator at which it’s considered that people might be likely to implement it, not what’s optimal. If you really want to make a difference to your health, then aim for 8 or more servings of vegetables and 2 of fruit every day, in as many different colours as possible. Start where you’re at, and go from there, increasing your number of servings gradually until you get there.

It’s so totally worth it.

And here’s a really interesting article you might also like to check out – NY Times – Breeding The Nutrition Out Of Our Food