by Daphne Lambert
Regularly eating a colourful rainbow of plants is hugely beneficial to health. Vegetables & fruits are full of compounds known as phytonutrients which are produced by plants to protect themselves against strong sunlight, oxidation, viruses, bacteria, insects, disease and background radiation. When we eat a diet rich in plants we harness these amazing powers and the plants protection becomes our protection. Phytonutrients are associated with the prevention of at least three of the leading causes of death in Western countries - cancer, diabetes & cardiovascular disease. They are involved in a variety of processes including ones that help prevent cell damage, prevent cancer cells replicating, and strengthening the immune system. Plants contain tens of thousands of different phyto nutrients. These compounds work in synergy with each other and are best taken in by eating the foods that contain them rather than taking supplements.
Phytonutrients are grouped according to their chemical structure and biological activity, these groups include terpines, organosulfurs, phenols and organic acids. Any one food can contain several different classifications of phytonutrients; broccoli and kale in particular contain a wide variety.
Phytonutrients act in a variety of ways to protect health and many are potent antioxidants Some help in a particular way like the anthocyanins found particularly in blackcurrants and blueberries protecting the eyes against macular degeneration. Sulfides and thiols found in leeks, garlic and olives decrease LDL cholesterol
The level of phytonutrients in any plant is influenced by a variety of factors hybrid varieties have bred out many beneficial phytonutrients and the condition of the soil will also make a difference to the level of phytonutrients in a plant.
Research shows that organic food has more phytonutrients than non organic crops. This is hardly surprising when you consider the effect of chemical pesticides. Chemicals used to kill insects and other problems that might attack fruits and vegetables, take away the natural protective strategy of plant which is making phytonutrients to protect itself so the phytonutrient content is reduced and in turn so too are the health benefits to us when we eat the plant.
Carotenoids, are from the terpine group, they are responsible for the red, orange and yellow colours in vegetables and fruits. There are many different carotenoids including alpha-carotene which is found for example in carrots, and lycopene found in tomatoes and rose-hips. Although you cannot see the colour, because of the chlorophyl, the carotenoid, beta carotene, is found in leafy green vegetables & and the powerful anti-oxidant carotenoid lutein in kale.
Organosulfurs include many important compounds, of particular importance are the indoles found in the brassica family and mustard plants it has been shown that these compounds protect against cancer and shrink tumours.
Blue, indigo and violet colours in vegetables and fruits like aubergine, grapes and blackberries come from their phenolic content. Health benefits of the phenol group include action against allergies and free radicals, enhancing the immune system, protecting against heart disease and slowing the ageing process.
Ellagic acid is a phytochemical found in many foods especially apples, grapes, strawberries and in particular red raspberries. Research has shown that ellagic acid strongly inhibits cancerous cells particularly in breast, pancreas, oesophageal, skin, colon and prostate cancer.
Phytonutrients, unlike protein, carbohydrate, fats, minerals and vitamins, are not considered essential for life but as we learn more and more about the healing power of phytonutrients we understand that they are essential for optimal health and longevity. To reap the extraordinary benefits of phytonutrients try to eat a colourful rainbow of vegetables & fruit every day.
Veg & fruit particularly high in phytonutrients include:
and we grow them all in the UK!
What are antioxidants & free radicals?
Antioxidants are substances that protect the body from free radical damage. Free radicals are formed largely as a by product of the body burning food to make energy so they are just part of our natural metabolism. They are also created by environmental factors including smoking, pesticides, pollution and radiation. Free radicals are atoms without a full outer shell of electrons. They are unstable and seek out electrons wherever they can so that they can become stable.
When a free radical attacks a molecule for its electron this in turn will become a free radical
causing a chain reaction which can result in massive destruction. Free radicals can attack and infiltrate every cell in your body. They are particularly damaging to the fats that make up our cell walls. Free radicals damage DNA attacking the sugars and phosphates that form the backbone of the double helix and leading to mutations
The body has antioxidant enzymes designed to deactivate free radicals before they cause damage but our bodies invariably create more free radicals than the enzymes can handle resulting in degeneration of the body. Antioxidants give their own electrons to the free radicals to help prevent cellular damage. Once an antioxidant has neutralized a free radical it becomes inactive so our body needs a continuous and bountiful supply antioxidants.
Many phytonutrients have antioxidant capabilities especially the carotenoids. Other important anti-oxidants are vitamins C & E, zinc, selenium and co-enzyme Q10
Balance from a rainbow of foods
The energy of the Sun sends a rainbow of colours to the Earth. These colours have a long healing tradition. One of the oldest concepts is that of healing the energies of the body through the chakra's which were first mentioned in the ancient Vedus, Hinduisms sacred writings. This tradition supports the existence of spinning wheels of light known as chakra's existing within the subtle body. The subtle body is the non-physical psychic body beyond the physical body.
Each chakra has a specific expression & resonates with a specific colour
The root chakra is located at the base of the spine and represents connection to the Earth and the feeling of being grounded. The root chakra resonates with the colour red.
The sacral chakra is located in the lower abdomen and is the seat of our emotions. Orange has the same vibrational frequency as the sacral chakra.
The solar plexus chakra is in the upper abdomen and represents our ability to be confident and centred in our lives. Yellow is the colour of the solar plexus.
The heart chakra is located at the centre of the chest just above the heart and represents our ability to love. This chakra resonates with the colour green
The throat chakra which is in the throat represents our ability to communicate and resonates with the colour blue.
The third eye chakra is located in the forehead between the eyes and represents our ability to focus and see the bigger picture, indigo is the colour of the third eye chakra.
The crown chakra located at the top of the head represents our ability to be fully connected spiritually and resonates with the colour violet.
Different coloured foods carry vibrations that can activate or help balance our chakras and offers another way of showing the wisdom of eating rainbow foods.