7 Colors of the Phytonutrient Rainbow: How Eating a Variety of Colors Can Keep You Healthy

Guest Post by Elisa Lenox 

Why is it that advice on healthy eating usually seems to center on what not to put in our mouths? With the endless ways we’re taught to limit calorie intakes and watch out for “bad” fat and carbohydrates, it’s almost easy to forget that there’s a whole world of foods out there that don’t threaten to give you heart disease, diabetes, or an expanded waistline.

Rather than focusing on what you shouldn’t eat, let’s take some time to focus on a few beautiful, flavorful, and health-building foods you should eat—specifically, foods rich in phytonutrients, the naturally occurring pigments that lend color and chemical protection to the plant kingdom, while also offering astounding health benefits.

The study of phytonutrients (“phyto” meaning “plant” and “nutrient” meaning, well, “nutrient”), also known as phytochemicals, is a relatively new field in nutrition, with more research unfolding on these substances than can be covered in one article. However, it’s fair to say that what is currently known lends powerful credence to that ageless maternal advice “eat your vegetables.”

Scientists have categorized classes of phytonutrients that offer different properties and benefits and it just so happens that many of these classes are represented by their colors. So read on and discover why becoming a connoisseur of the plant-based nutrient spectrum is a brilliant strategy that will help to preserve both your health and physical charm.

Blue/Purple – Anthocyanins are flavonoids that act as powerful antioxidants, neutralizing free radicals that cause aging and degenerative disease. There’s even a connection between this phytonutrient and decreased visceral (abdominal) fat! A 2008 study from Chubu University in Japan found a link between anthocyanin intake and reduced incidence of metabolic disorders, including abdominal weight gain, hypertension, and impaired glucose and insulin metabolism.

purple food

True, blue anthocyanin sources include red cabbage, blueberries, blackberries, acai berries, cherries, grapes, blue potatoes, eggplant, and radicchio.

Orange/Yellow – Multiple studies indicate that diets rich in beta-carotene lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer. This amazing phytonutrient falls into the carotenoid class that (along with the flavonoid group) has been credited in a 2010 Tufts University study for providing photo-protective and antioxidant action in the skin. In short, these inflammation, wrinkle, and cancer-preventing nutrients protect your skin from the inside out!

orangefruits

To get a bit of beta-carotene, try sweet potato, carrots and carrot juice, winter squash, pumpkin, and cantaloupe.

Red – Lycopene has been in the news a lot lately for its positive influence on prostate health, but it’s also thought to prevent cervical dysplasia in conjunction with other carotenoids. In other words, it’s also good for the uterus, making it an equal-opportunity nutrient. In addition, a 1996 University of Minnesota study found a significant increase in longevity based upon the blood lycopene levels of nuns living the same lifestyle, in the same conditions.

Lycopene-rich-tomato-juice-may-slash-inflammation-levels_strict_xxl

If you’re ready to get into the red, try tomato and tomato products, watermelon, pink grapefruit, guava, and papaya.

Yellow/Green – The light absorbing properties of lutein are associated with eye health involving a decrease in cataract formation and macular degeneration. Mellow, yellow lutein sources include spinach, kale, collards, mustard and dandelion greens, summer squash, and pumpkin.

Green – Chlorophyll’s abilities to bind toxins and decrease oxidative stress make it a powerful bodily detoxifier and explain how it can actually reduce body odor.

Greens

You’ll be seeing green with chlorophyll sources like spinach, kale, Swiss chard, arugula, green beans—any green vegetable. The darker, the better.

Green/White – Another detoxifier, sulphoraphane is part of the isotheocyanate class of phytonutrients that has been cited in multiple studies as a cancer preventative and detoxifier of carcinogens. Some super sulphoraphane sources include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, broccoli sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, cauliflower, and watercress.

White – The anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial qualities of allicin lend to its reputation as an inhibitor of heart disease and gastric cancer as well as a potent immune booster. All-around awesome allicin sources include garlic, onion, leek, shallot, and chives.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to polychromatic eating. Use a food processor to quickly shred red cabbage and Brussels sprouts into an easy chopped salad with pomegranate seeds, blanched almonds, and a homemade lemony dressing, or gently wilt kale or Swiss chard in olive oil with garlic, onion, and thinly sliced yellow bell pepper. Spiced sweet potatoes or winter squash bake in less than 40 minutes for a simple, energy-boosting carbohydrate serving. Fruit and leafy green-packed smoothies are a fantastic way to throw together a quick, nutrient-dense breakfast, and don’t forget the most convenient and superfood-packed meal on the go . . . Shakeology®. Where else can you get over 20 phytonutrients and antioxidants in one delicious and easily portable package?

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How can you ensure that you’re drenching your system in these healthful, beauty-boosting nutrients every day? Make it a personal mission to sample from a wide variety of fruits and vegetables daily and get as innovative with your recipes as your imagination and nature’s color palette will allow. Get creative and, before you know it, you’ll be benefiting from the phytonutrient rainbow!

The Shakeology® Breakdown: Adaptogens

Guest Post By Sarah Stevenson

(An occasional series on the many fine ingredients that make up Shakeology)

If you’re reading this, you probably know that the stuff in the new Tropical Strawberry Shakeology is good for you and vegan. If you’ve looked at the back of its shiny, white bag, you might even be aware that it’s a tour de force of super healthy ingredients. But here’s the tricky part: Do you know exactly what all those ingredients do?

There’s a good chance that you don’t know, but being smart, healthy, and curious, you sure want to! If you fall into this camp, read on, because, as usual, Beachbody® is here to help.

Welcome to the first in a series here in the newsletter featuring the different proprietary blends in this wonder shake. This week, we tackle Shakeology’s vegan proprietary adaptogen herb blend.

Adaptogens function just like they sound, by allowing you to adapt to life’s changes. They help the body de-stress and return to a state of equilibrium. They possess three qualities:

  • They are nontoxic.

  • They benefit the whole body (not targeting any specific part).

  • They create balance or one’s natural state of homeostasis in your system.

Of course, you’ll also find plenty of these adaptogens in the other flavors of Shakeology, so keep that in mind when perusing this list.

One thing we can all count on is that life will always be full of changes. When it is tough coping with those changes, turning to these balancing herbs may be the solution you need. Here are the adaptogens you’ll find in Shakeology:

  • Maca root (Lepidium meyenii). Maca contains calcium, potassium, iron, iodine, copper manganese, and zinc. It also has many fatty acids including linolenic acid, palmitic acid, and oleic acid, as well as 19 amino acids. Maca-powder-and-rootIn 2002, Peruvian researchers conducted a study in which they found that men given maca root had a quantifiable increase in sexual desire after just 8 weeks. In a 2009 review of the effects of maca root, researchers reported, “Randomized clinical trials have shown that maca has favorable effects on energy and mood, may decrease anxiety and improve sexual desire.” In other words, this adaptogen can simultaneously heat you up and cool you down. You’ll be hard-pressed to find something more balanced than that.

  • Astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus). In 2009, researchers reported in the Journal of Immunology that astrgalus roots have antiviral and anti-aging properties. H-Astragalus-RootIt’s a diuretic, meaning it helps flush out bacteria, viruses, and inflammation. It helps build up your immune system and does a great job at protecting the liver from toxins. In other words, this adaptogen keeps you healthy and young.

  • Ashwagandha root (Withania somnifera). Ashwagandha in Sanskrit means “horse’s smell” likely because the root smells like a sweaty horse. (Thankfully, it tastes like strawberries in this shake!) Practitioners of the traditional Indian practice of Ayurvedic medicine use ashwagandha root to keep the central nervous system healthy. maxresdefaultThis can help with disorders in the CNS like epilepsy, stress, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Practitioners also prescribe ashwagandha root to reduce stress and as a sleep aid. So if you want a healthy central nervous system, or want to stay relaxed and sleep sound, this adoptogen is for you.

  • Maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa). In Chinese and Japanese herbal medicine, the maitake mushroom is coined the “medicinal mushroom.” This mushroom is rich in potassium; calcium; magnesium; vitamins B2, D2, and niacine; fiber; and amino acids. In a 2009 study, researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center found maitake mushrooms to posses anti-cancer qualities! Several studies conducted at Japan’s Hokkaido University have shown that this mushroom has the power to regulate blood pressure, insulin, glucose, and liver lipids like cholesterol, triglyceriedes, and phospholipids. Forget “medicinal mushroom.” Sounds more like “miracle mushroom.”

  • Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis, fungi). In his 15th century medical text, Tibetian doctor Zurkhar Nyamnyi Dorje sites cordyceps fungi as helping with sexual dysfunction, but that’s just one of its many benefits. Over the years, animal studies have shown cordyceps fungi can treat an array of conditions, including treatment of arrhythmia, gastric spasm, gastric atony, consumptive cough, excessive sweating, kidney and liver health, and autoimmune diseases. And recently, British research shows that cordyceps may be a valuable tool in fighting cancer. But wait, there’s more! When Chinese athletes broke world records in track in the 1992 Olympics, everyone accused the athletes of steroid use. But the athletes attributed their success to cordyceps, claiming the fungi promoted efficient use of oxygen and increased blood flow to organs.

  • Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum). Also known as the “supernatural mushroom,” these fungi have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years. They’re known in the East for their amazing benefits and lack of side effects. reishi_shotReishi mushrooms contain a group of triterpene phytonutrients called ganoderic acids that have anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities. Researchers have found the reishi mushroom can be used to lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. It is also currently being studied for its anti-tumor qualities and ability to protect against liver disease. Talk about super natural.

  • Peppermint tea. This tea can be made from dried or fresh peppermint leaves, which are very simple to grow organically in your own backyard. Peppermint tea is known for its healing properties with your digestive system. peppermint-tea-550pxIt is a carminativean agent that dispels gas and bloating in the digestive system, and an antispasmodic, which means it helps relieve intestinal cramps related to an upset stomach. Its expectorant properties help your body clear mucus when you have a head cold. It also has the aromatherapy benefit of helping to relieve headaches and induce a restful sleep.

  • Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum, leaf). Used for centuries by Ayurvedic practitioners, holy basil is worshiped in the Hindu religion as the avatar of Goddess Lakshmi. Although holy basil has been used for centuries therapeutically, over the last few decades many scientists and researchers from India have started to get very serious in their study of the plant and its benefits. basilStudies suggest that the leaves boost insulin secretion, thus acting as a pain killer (due to their ability to inhibit COX-2); lower cholesterol; and have antioxidant, immune-boosting, and stress-relieving properties. Practitioners prescribe the leaf of this plant to treat common colds, headaches, stomach disorders, inflammation, heart disease, and many forms of poisoning. No doubt about it, holy basil is one holy stress reliever.

  • Mulberry tea. This tea has a really delicious, fruity taste. Mulberry tea is filled with nutrients such as magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium. It aids in weight loss because it’s a diuretic, so it helps cleanse your body of toxins, and it also has the ability to block sugars from entering the blood stream. In a study published in the May 2007 issue of Diabetes Care journal, mulberry leaf was found to reduce glucose levels in rats and subjects with type 2 diabetes. The tea contains antioxidants that help build the immune system and reduce bad cholesterol.

  • Schisandra (Schisandra spp., fruit). A native of East Asia used in traditional Chinese medicine, the name translates as “five flavor fruit” because it possess all five flavors in Chinese herbal medicine: salty, sweet, sour, pungent (spicy), and bitter. In 2011, Chinese researchers conducted a study in which they stressed out mice for 18 hours to the point that they were not able to accomplish tasks properly. (Sorry, Mickey and Minnie!) They then administered a dose of schisandra. Shortly thereafter, the mice were able to follow through with the tasks presented to them. Other animal studies suggest the use of schisandra can help resist infections; improve skin health; and fight off insomnia, coughing, and thirst. It has also been used in Chinese medicine to help protect the liver, stabilize blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and as a stimulant to increase energy levels. If it works for Mickey Mouse it can work for you.

  • Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba, leaf). Native of China, also known as the Maidenhair Tree, ginkgo biloba is unique, having no relatives similar to it. Current studies are beginning to uncover the amazing benefits that this herb has to offer the mind regarding clarity and attention span. In 2005, a study was conducted involving 52 healthy young adult volunteers. When compared to a placebo, they found that ginkgo takers had “significantly improved performance on the sustained-attention task and pattern-recognition memory task.” The effect was almost immediate and reached its peak 2.5 hours after intake. And if that’s not enough, in Chinese medicine it is often used for increasing blood flow to protect against blood clotting, and to ward off vertigo. A fast-acting mind-clearer? Goodbye coffee, hello Shakeology!

As you can clearly see, we didn’t pick these adaptogens all willy-nilly. Each one was carefully researched and selected to bring good health to several different aspects of your life. From ancient cure-alls to aphrodisiacs, stress-busters to (legal) Olympic performance enhancers, adaptogens are the key to adding something most of us sorely miss in our lives: balance.

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Resources:

  • Panossian, A.,Wikman, G., and Wagner, H. (1999). Plant adaptogens. III. Earlier and more recent aspects and concepts on their mode of action. Phytomedicine 6, 287-300.

  • Kilham, Christopher (2000). Tales from the Medicine Trail: Tracking Down the Health Secrets of Shamans, Herbalists, Mystics, Yogis, and Other Healers. [Emmaus PA]: Rodale Press. ISBN 1-57954-185-2.

  • http://www.rain-tree.com/maca.htm

  • Gonzales, GF.; Cordova A., Vega K., Chung A., Villena A., Gonez C. & Castillo S. (2002). “Effect of Lepidium meyenii (maca) on sexual desire and its absent relationship with serum testosterone levels in adult healthy men.” Andrologia 34 (6): 367–72.

  • Gonzales, GF; Cordova A., Gonzales C., Chung A., Vega K. & Villena A. (2001). “Lepidium meyenii (maca) improved semen parameters in adult men.” Asian Journal of Andrology 3 (4): 301–3.

  • Gonzales GF, Gonzales C, Gonzales-Castañeda C (December 2009). “Lepidium meyenii (Maca): a plant from the highlands of Peru–from tradition to science.” Forsch Komplementmed 16 (6): 373–80.

  • Jim English (2008). “Anti-Aging and Anti-Viral Effects of Herbal ‘Youth’ Compound.” Nutrition Review 3 (5).

  • “Withania Somnifera (L.) Dunal.” Germplasm Resources Information Network – (GRIN) [Online Database]. Beltsville, Maryland: USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory.

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  • Nanba H, Kubo K (December 1997). “Effect of Maitake D-fraction on cancer prevention.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 833 (1 Cancer): 204–7.

  • Kodama N, Komuta K, Sakai N, Nanba H (December 2002). “Effects of D-Fraction, a polysaccharide from Grifola frondosa on tumor growth involve activation of NK cells.” Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin 25 (12): 1647–50.

  • Mackay, Duncan (2001-07-24). “Mao’s army on the march again.” The Guardian.

  • Kobayasi, Y. (1941). “The genus Cordyceps and its allies.” Science Reports of the Tokyo Bunrika Daigaku, Sect. B 5: 53–260. ISSN 0371-3547.

  • Paterson RR (2006). “Ganoderma – a therapeutic fungal biofactory.” Phytochemistry 67 (18): 1985–2001.

  • Lindequist U, Niedermeyer THJ, Jülich WD. (2005). “The pharmacological potential of mushrooms.” Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2 (3): 285–299.

  • Prakash, P.; Gupta, N. (April 2005). “Therapeutic uses of Ocimum sanctum Linn (Tulsi) with a note on eugenol and its pharmacological actions: A short review.” Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology 49 (2): 125–131.

  • Sethi, Jyoti; Sood, Sushma; Seth, Shashi; Talwar, Anjana (2004). “Evaluation of hypoglycemic and antioxidant effect of Ocimum sanctum.” Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry 19 (2): 152–155.

  • Mondal, S.; Varma, S.; Bamola, V. D.; Naik, S. N.; Mirdha, B. R.; Padhi, M. M.; Mehta, N.; Mahapatra, S. C. (2011). “Double-blinded randomized controlled trial for immunomodulatory effects of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) leaf extract on healthy volunteers.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 136 (3): 452–456.

  • Panossian A., Wikman G. Pharmacology of Schisandra chinensis Bail.: An overview of Russian research and uses in medicine. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Vol 118/2 pp 183-212.

  • Pharmacological studies on the anxiolytic effect of standardized Schisandra lignans extract on restraint-stressed mice Wai-Wei Chen, Rong-Rong He, Yi-Fang Li, Shan-Bing Li, Bun Tsoi, Hiroshi Kurihara. Phytomedicine – 15 October 2011 Vol. 18, Issue 13, Pages 1144-1147.

  • Snitz, B. E.; O’Meara, E. S.; Carlson, M. C.; Arnold, A. M.; Ives, D. G.; Rapp, S. R.; Saxton, J.; Lopez, O. L. et al (2009). “Ginkgo biloba for Preventing Cognitive Decline in Older Adults: A Randomized Trial.” JAMA: the Journal of the American Medical Association 302 (24): 2663–70.

  • Mahadevan, S.; Park, Y. (2007). “Multifaceted Therapeutic Benefits of Ginkgo biloba L.: Chemistry, Efficacy, Safety, and Uses.” Journal of Food Science 73 (1): R14–9.

  • Elsabagh, Sarah; Hartley, David E.; Ali, Osama; Williamson, Elizabeth M.; File, Sandra E. (2005). “Differential cognitive effects of Ginkgo biloba after acute and chronic treatment in healthy young volunteers.” Psychopharmacology 179 (2): 437–46.

  • BBC News: Herbal remedies “boost brain power.”

  • Wong, Y. Y., Moon, A., Duffin, R., Barthet-Barateig, A., Meijer, H. A., Clemens, M. J., & De Moor, C. H. (2010). Cordycepin Inhibits Protein Synthesis and Cell Adhesion through Effects on Signal Transduction. The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 285(4), 2610-2621. American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.