Most people probably already know that a diet rich in assorted fruits and vegetables is vital to maintaining health and preventing disease. Fruits and vegetables come in a rich variety of colors and flavors that benefit health in different and unique ways, and they also contain a diverse array of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. But according to a recent America’s Phytonutrient Report, 80 percent of Americans do not eat an adequate amount and variety of fruits and vegetables, which has resulted in a “phytonutrient gap” that is causing widespread health problems.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, there are generally five primary color categories. These include red, blue and purple, yellow and orange, white, and green. Each color category is said to play a different role in health. White, for instance, tends to inhibit cancer and lower cholesterol levels, as well as bolster heart health. The yellow and orange category contributes to healthy eyes as do greens, which also stop cancer growth.
All fruits and vegetables contain various levels and types of phytonutrients that are designed to fend off diseases like cancer and premature aging. And experts recommend regularly eating a diverse selection of fruits and vegetables from all the color categories in order to obtain the maximum benefits from each one. Together, these nutrients work synergistically to fortify the body.
According to the report, Americans have a phytonutrient deficiency in every color category. The worst deficiency is in the blue and purple category where 88 percent of Americans are deficient. In the white category, 86 percent are deficient, while 79 percent are deficient in the orange and yellow category. Seventy-eight percent are deficient in reds and 69 percent are deficient in greens.
In lieu of recommended guidelines for phytonutrient intake (which do not exist), the report identified “prudent intake” levels for 14 different phytonutrients and compared those with average American intake levels in order to determine the gap. These included EGCG, isothiocyanate, lutein and zeaxanthin, and isoflavones for greens; lycopene and ellagic acid for reds; allicin and quercetin for whites; anthocyanidins and resveratrol for purples and blues; and alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, hesperitin, and beta-cryptoxanthin for yellows and oranges.
Amy Hendel, a registered physician assistant and health and wellness expert who is working to educate people about phytonutrients, recommends trying to eat at least two fruits or vegetables from each color category every day in order to maintain optimal levels of all these nutrients.
As always, clean, organic produce is the best option as it will be free from deadly pesticides and higher in vitamin and mineral content. Home-grown fruits and vegetables are another choice as they typically have the best flavor, and can be grown organically to personal standards. They also offer the rewarding experience of harvesting the fruits of one’s own labor.
An excellent way to help maintain high intake of varied fruits and vegetables is to juice them. A high-quality juicer will not only extract the valuable nutrients, including some of the fiber, but will also allow you to combine many different varieties in a single, great-tasting juice. Carrots, for instance, can be juiced along with beets, celery, apples, and ginger to create a delicious, healthy phytonutrient beverage.
High-quality food blenders offer similar options as you can fortify smoothies, soups, and purees with fresh vegetables not normally present in such recipes. Forsoups and purees, these powerful food machines will gently heat the contents through rapid, sustained blending while maintaining nutritional and enzymatic integrity.
Sundry experimentation and creative thinking are sure to help anyone incorporate diverse nutritional foods intopractical snacks and meals — you just have to start thinking outside the box. You can also help supplement your diet with products like Absolute Greens, an amazing fruit and vegetable powder that is packed with phytonutrients.