You are what you eat! Or so the old adage follows, and though it seems cliched, there is a reason for that; it is true! Regardless of restrictive, trendy diets, food is essentially macronutrients that provide energy for the metabolic functioning of cells and tissues, and minerals and vitamins that help us utilize energy, maintain various bodily systems while helping to mitigate disease. However, not all food is created equally, and a balanced diet depends on incorporating a variety of nutrient-dense foods to exploit the individual attributes possessed by each food for health maintenance.
Whole grains come in many types including wheat, barley, brown rice, oats, and millet. They are composed of a fiber rich bran coating, a starchy carbohydrate rich endosperm and the fatty germ core. Unfortunately, white, and refined flours have their bran and germ layers removed, and therefore lack the favorable fatty acids and fiber and are then fortified to replenish the nutrients that were also removed in the refining process, rendering it a nutritionally inferior product.
However, choosing whole grains ensures that one is being provided healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, B vitamins, a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber and minerals such as magnesium, iron, and zinc. So, fill up a quarter of your plate with your favorite whole grains for a nutritional punch!
Dark leafy greens such as kale, chard, mustard greens, spinach, and beet greens, are low in calories and are a veritable powerhouse of important phytochemicals, cancer-fighting antioxidants, carotenoids, folate (and other B vitamins), Vitamin A, K, E, and C as well as minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. These aforementioned nutrients are important for the health of the cardiovascular system, blood clotting, bone mineralization, and red blood cell development.
Blue and Purple fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, beetroot, and red cabbage, are chock full of anthocyanins and polyphenols which are powerful antioxidants that neutralize free radicals that can damage cells, contribute to premature aging, and propagate cancer development. They are also full of nitrates that promote vasodilation, reduce blood pressure, and improve cognition.
Red and orange hued fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, squash and red peppers, are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components such as lycopene, vitamin C, beta-carotene, ellagic acid and anthocyanins. These compounds are known to aid in collagen development (vitamin C), and help lower the risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases.
Lipid rich, cold water fish such as salmon, rainbow trout and sardines are significant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, namely, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). In fact, marine sources of omega-3 fatty acids are the only sources of preformed EPA and DHA (including vegan sourced marine algae omega-3 supplements) which are otherwise converted at very low levels by mostly plant sources of the essential fatty acid ALA or alpha-linolenic-acid.
These two fatty acids are essential for brain and retinal development and maintenance, cell membrane structure, and are used to produce chemical mediators which are imperative for cardiovascular, immune, pulmonary, and endocrine function. In fact, evidence shows that omega-3 consumption is associated with risk mitigation of cardiovascular disease, stroke, coronary artery disease, hypertension, and perhaps as adjunctive therapy for Rheumatoid arthritis. There is also some evidence, albeit inconclusive, that suggests higher omega-3 consumption may lessen the burden of colorectal and breast cancers.
Legumes include lentils, green beans, soybeans, peas, peanuts, and beans. Generally speaking, they are high in protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates and are also low in fat (exception of peanuts and soybeans). They are rich sources of iron, B vitamins such as folate and riboflavin, magnesium, zinc, calcium, selenium, phosphorus, and copper. They are also notoriously high in fiber and so help to lower cholesterol levels and hence the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as colorectal cancer. The high fiber content also alleviates constipation, promotes regular bowel movements, while also promoting satiety and delaying gastric emptying, thereby making it a utility in weight management.
The foods discussed here are particularly nutrient-dense and should be included in a healthy diet rife with a colorful and diverse plethora of delicious foods. Along with other important lifestyle practices such as adequate sleep and physical activity, food is the fuel we require to build and maintain a healthy body so that we can enjoy a long and vibrant life!
Link/References if you want to check more info: British Heart Foundation/ Maphosa, Y., & Jideani, V / Minich, D. (2019, June 02).A Review of the Science of Colorful, Plant-Based Food and Practical Strategies for “Eating the Rainbow”. / Office of Dietary Supplements – Omega-3 Fatty Acids / harvard.edu “Whole Grains.”/