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  • Dr Amina Davison

6 Ways to get more phytonutrients in your diet

Natural compounds called phytonutrients, are components of plants that are powerful defenders of health. Studies show that people who eat more plant foods have a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

1. Aim for 9-13 Servings of Plant Foods Every Day

We need about 9-13 servings of whole plant foods if we want to prevent chronic disease. A typical serving is only half a cup of cooked vegetables, one cup of raw leafy vegetable, or a medium-sized piece of fruit. Aim for 3-4 servings of plant foods in each meal of the day in order to make your serving requirement on a daily basis.

2. Know Your Phytonutrient Sources

Phytonutrient-rich foods are limitless, making it fun to experiment with new varieties and colours even within one category of food. Here are some sources of phytonutrients to get you started: any and all plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and even herbs and spices.

3. Eat the Rainbow of Colours

Instead of getting the full rainbow of colour, you may be eating the standard processed food colors of brown, yellow, and white. For example, think of the typical breakfast menu – toast, pancakes, ready-to-eat cereal, sausage, and eggs – which does not necessarily provide much colour early in the day. However, if you had a fruit smoothie with blueberries, peaches, and raspberries, you’d have three colours of the seven colours of the rainbow first thing in the morning! Make it your goal to get the full seven colours every day with a variety of foods.

4. Vary Your Choices

There are thousands of phytonutrients in nature. If we eat the same foods over and over again, even if they are colourful, we may be missing many more important phytonutrients in other foods. One helpful hint is to try a new food every week to ensure that you are getting a good variety.

5. Maximize Combinations

When we put certain foods together, we may achieve a better effect than if we just had the foods by themselves, this is known as a "synergistic" effect. For example, putting turmeric with black pepper together with olive oil could enhance the phytonutrient effects of all three foods on your health. Adding lemon juice to spinach could help the iron become more absorbed by your body. Try putting plant foods together for an enhanced health benefit.

6. Be Creative with Substitutions

One way to get more plant foods would be to think of foods that are commonly eaten that may not be as nutrient dense and replace with nutrient-dense options. Some plant foods clearly give us more phytonutrients than others! For example, you could substitute mashed potatoes with mashed purple potatoes or sweet potatoes. You could substitute white rice with purple, brown, or black rice.

Try some of these simple suggestions today and get more colour into your diet.

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