Written by

Payal Patel PharmD, IFMCP

What does health signify to you? 

I tend to view health as non-linear and complex. Optimal health embodies the complexities of past influences, combined with present ongoing factors which contribute to our health as we experience it today. It is rooted in diversity in terms of contributing factors, but also intricately personalized on an individual level. The interplay of external variables and our individual unique needs, highlights the importance of taking a personalized approach to health and vitality. How do we create the optimal environment for our unique bodies, using the basic building blocks available to all of us?

One of the most incredible sources of information we receive, down to a molecular level, comes in the form of food. When customized and used appropriately, food has the power to enhance an individual’s wellbeing.

As we focus on providing personalized meals, we put a great deal of attention to the richness of the meals prepared. One of the best ways to enhance the healing potential of foods is by diversifying and extrapolating the power of nutrients found naturally occurring in food. Put simply, tap into the amazing potential of phytonutrients! 

Phytonutrients are chemical compounds, naturally produced by plants, which have shown benefit in preventing diseases and helping promote health in humans. The greater the diversity of phytonutrients in our diet, the greater the benefits!

Many of the phytonutrients found in food, can be recognized by the colors they impart on the plants where they are found. For example, anthocyanin found in blueberries, give them their color and are responsible for the powerful antioxidant benefits of the fruit. Each phytonutrient has its unique properties and contribution to the benefits it imparts on human health. As a basic guiding principle, aim to diversify the color of foods in your diet, to reap the spectrum of health benefits embedded in plant diversity.

The Power of Color and Diversity

Antioxidants: One of the key roles phytonutrients play is in helping neutralize the effect of free radicals and oxidative processes in the body caused by environmental and lifestyle factors. For example, Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant found in green vegetables, citrus fruits and berries to name a few. Vitamin C has an important role in soaking up free radicals produced by our cells that lead to aging and chronic diseases. Resveratrol, found in grapes, dark berries and cocoa, is a potent antioxidant which has shown benefit in cardiovascular health

Anti-inflammatory: Similar to the antioxidant benefits on overall health, numerous phytonutrients exert a robust benefit on inflammation throughout the body. This can be seen through a direct effect on inflammatory chemicals or even indirectly by enhancing beneficial bacteria in the gut. For example, quercetin which is found in onions and apples, works on multiple pathways to help reduce the formation of inflammatory cytokines as well as its effect on histamine to reduce inflammatory reactions. Turmeric, a spice found in many Asian cuisines, has received greater attention recently for its role in inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and metabolic syndrome.

Detoxification support: Our bodies are constantly exposed to toxins through our external environment. Phytonutrients support metabolic processes involved in detoxification pathways throughout our body. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, contain sulforphanes which play a key role in liver detoxification pathways. Nutrients such as betaine (found in beets) or folate (found in beans, legumes, and green vegetables) support balanced methylation processes, which are central to various detoxification mechanisms.

While these are just a few basic examples of the powerful role phytonutrients play in fundamental systems of the body, we certainly cannot trivialize the significance of each nutrient as part of a wholesome diet. Aiming to get a wide range of nutrients through wholesome food reinforces the intricate and complex balance that our bodies are innately capable of maintaining. Nature offers a colorful and tasty palette to create what our bodies need to remain in harmony within itself and in its surroundings!

References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25051278/
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/anthocyanins
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31329250/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3783921/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7254783/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5664031/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4488002/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2342128/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3262611/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5976740/