Deep rich color in natural foods is a good sign that a fruit or vegetable is high in natural phytonutrients. The word “phyto” originated from the Greek word meaning “plant.” Phytonutrients have antioxidant effects on your body, protecting cells against damage caused by harmful toxins such as air pollution and tobacco smoke. These toxins can create harmful free-radical molecules, which contribute to illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
There are more than 10,000 phytonutrients, and they help fight disease naturally by boosting the immune system and providing anti-inflammatory properties. They are even antiviral and antibacterial. Some phytonutrients act like antibiotics in your body and help fight infection. Some may have an even greater beneficial effect on our health than vitamins, mineral and micronutrients.
Dark chocolate is rich in phytonutrients. Look for a variety that contains at least 70 percent cacao, which has been found to lower blood pressure and raise levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. Chocolate is high in calories, however, so eat it in moderation – otherwise the extra calories will outweigh the benefits. Dark chocolate can also cause extra heart beats, or arrhythmia, so please avoid it if you have this health challenge.
In addition to deeply-colored fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, olive oil and nuts are rich in phytonutrients. Look for intense color such as purple grapes and dark greens. Build side dishes around your dark green, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, broccoli, deep red beets, green and yellow summer squash and sweet potatoes with a deep orange color–they are higher in beta-carotene. Serve colorful fruits for dessert, like strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and pomegranate.
Simply create a colorful rainbow on your plate. Sometimes we allow our busy schedules to dictate fast, available meals without much planning. If you are feeling time pressure, take a few steps at the beginning of your week to make easy choices that benefit your immune system and vibrancy. Make a big quinoa and chopped vegetable salad or tabbouleh and portion it out into sealed containers. Steam enough kale, spaghetti squash and other favorite vegetables at dinner to enjoy the next day. No time to cook this week? Stock your refrigerator with pre-washed and trimmed raw veggies from the store, along with hummus, guacamole and nut butter for dipping. Remember to read the labels carefully for ingredients, as well as levels of fats and sodium when choosing prepared foods.
Still need that chocolate lift? Try grating your dark chocolate lightly over your berries for dessert!
Dietary bioactive compounds and their health implications
Antioxidant content of whole grain breakfast cereals, fruits and vegetables
Quercetin, Inflammation and Immunity
Health-Promoting Components of Fruits and Vegetables in the Diet
Daily consumption of a dark chocolate containing flavanols and added sterol esters affects cardiovascular risk factors in a normotensive population with elevated cholesterol.
Chocolate intake is associated with better cognitive function: The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study