Over the past few posts I have highlighted some of the benefits of the phytochemicals that give color to plant foods. These benefits are many and there are likely even more protective and healthy attributes of phytochemicals that we have not yet discovered.
If you ate green vegetables every day, you would help your liver with detoxifying your blood, you’d be helping to fight free radicals and you would be helping your immune system. But if your plate were only green, you’d be missing out on the benefits of reds (improving cardiovascular health), blues/purples (powerful antioxidants), oranges, yellows, and whites. This is why it is important to incorporate an abundance of colors into your diet each day.
Berries on your breakfast oatmeal or yogurt. A lunchtime salad with greens, red peppers, mushrooms, eggplant, and yellow squash. For dinner, have red lentils with a variety of colored vegetables.
I often include an array of colors in a meal by roasting vegetables. A favorite recipe of mine is adapted from Miso-Maple Roasted Roots, which I found on the Food52 website. I add extra-firm tofu to this recipe and, voila, I have a complete meal.
1 carton (14oz) Extra-Firm Tofu, cut into 1/2 chunks
2 pounds root vegetables, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, sweet potato, beets. I often add butternut squash for more color and flavor, even though it is not a root vegetable.)
2 tablespoons miso paste (white or yellow)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Whisk together the miso, maple syrup, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and oil. Toss the sauce with the cut-up root vegetables, coating them well. Transfer the vegetables to the baking sheet.
- Place tofu in the bowl that had the miso sauce and gently stir to incorporate the rest of the sauce onto the outside of the tofu pieces. Gently spread the tofu on top of the vegetables in the roasting pan.
- Roast, turning periodically, for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft (but not mushy) and caramelized.
Purple, as a color in nature, is rare. It is the most powerful wavelength of the rainbow. It is a color people either hate or love. The phytonutrients that provide this color in plants are best known for their powerful antioxidant properties.
Resveratrol is likely a phytochemical that most of us are familiar with. Wine is the most common source of resveratrol and a subject of many studies. Resveratrol, besides being an antioxidant, also has anti-inflammatory properties. It is also thought that resveratrol may help slow cognitive decline. In animals, resveratrol was found to be neuroprotective. One study showed that it increased blood flow in the brain, though this did not lead to an increase in performing difficult tasks. Resveratrol may prevent atherosclerosis. It is currently being studied as a possible treatment for Type 2 Diabetes. In animal studies, it has been shown to be effective in improving insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. It is possible that resveratrol may be involved in the prevention and treatment of cancer cells, though this is in the early stages of studies.
Anthocyanins are another phytochemical that gives plants their purple color. Anthocyanins are known to improve vision, inhibit nitric oxide production and protect neurons.
Proanthocyanidins, another purple phytochemical, inhibits inflammation in the arterial wall, inhibits atherosclerosis, acts as an antioxidant, and may also protect against urinary tract infections.
Blue/Purple Plant Foods:
Plums or prunes
Purple Sweet Potatoes
This week I’d like to share the benefits of the “green” family of plant foods. Phytochemicals providing the green color in plants are known for their ability neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are compounds that oxidize or damage cells. Green plant foods help the liver to detox the blood and they also support the immune system. Green plant foods may also protect against some cancers. Phytochemicals also provide a plant’s aroma and flavor. Cruciferous vegetables (many of which are green) contain sulfurophane, which gives these foods their – yes – sulphur odor. Sulfurophane helps to fight some cancers.
Foods that contain phytochemicals producing the green color are:
Peas, Sugar Snap Peas, Snow Peas
Try a new green vegetable this week. Maybe one you’ve been afraid of. Roasting brussels sprouts is a tasty way to serve this cruciferous vegetable and even kids will eat roasted veggies. Trim Brussels sprouts, cut in half if they are large, and spread on a large cookie sheet or sheet pan. Add some olive oil, a favorite herb (I am liking thyme right now), and a sprinkle of salt. Bake at 420 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, or until tender but not mushy. Eat and enjoy!
Orange brings a feeling of warmth and happiness. No wonder, since it is the combination of the energy and radiance of red and the warmth and cheeriness of yellow! How great that citrus fruits share their warmth with us in the winter.
Phytonutrients that make up the orange color in plant foods include the carotenoids, such as the well known carotenes, which convert to Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A helps maintain the immune system and is also important for eye health. Other benefits of the color orange are in the prevention of cancer and in the promotion of collagen growth.
Orange plant foods include:
Warm up your diet with some orange this week.
There is another reason why eating your fruits and vegetables is good for you. The rich pigment color in plant-based foods come from compounds called phytonutrients or phytochemicals. Phytochemicals protect plants from predators and disease. Current research suggests that phytonutrients may also play a role in protecting us from disease, especially in those who consume high levels of plant-based foods. Eating a variety of plant-based foods provides a variety of beneficial phytonutrients. Supplements do not perform as well, so get your phytonutrients from whole foods.
What are the various benefits of each color? Let’s start with red, in honor of Valentine’s Day.
Phytonutrients that provide the red color in plants include lycopene, ellagic acid and carotenoids. Carotenoids act as anti-oxidants, attacking harmful compounds that damage cells and tissues. Lycopene improves heart and blood health and also supports joints. Lycopene has also been linked to a lower risk of prostate cancer. Ellagic acid may prevent cancer.
Red foods include:
Apples (with skin)
Put some red on your plate! Challenge yourself to try a new fruit or vegetable!
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I made this yummy vegetarian dish for Valentine’s Day. I served it with quinoa drizzled with aged Balsamic vinegar and a roasted beet and arugula salad. The mushroom recipe was adapted from Eating Well magazine.
Cheese and Spinach-stuffed Portobellos
4 large portobello mushroom caps
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup finely chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
2 T finely chopped kalamata olives
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup prepared marinara sauce
1. Preheat oven to 450degrees F.
2. Place mushroom caps, gill-side up, on parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until tender, 20-25 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, mash ricotta cheese, spinach, 1/4 cup Parmesan, olives, Italian seasoning and the freshly ground pepper in a medium bowl. Heat marinara sauce in a small saucepan over low heat.
4. When mushrooms are tender, carefully pour out any liquid accumulated in the caps. Return the caps to the pan, gill-side up. Spread 1T marinara into each cap; cover the remaining sauce to keep warm. Mound a generous 1/3 cup ricotta filling into each cap and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Bake until hot, about 10 minutes. Serve with the remaining marinara sauce.
Makes 4 servings.
Per Serving: 201 calories; 10g Fat (5g sat fat, 4g monounsaturated fat); 13g carbohdyrates; 14g protein; 2g fiber