Eating the Rainbow

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Last month, nutritionist Jess Godfrey spoke to WellcomeMD’s Richmond practice about the importance of eating a well-balanced diet, or as she refers to it, eating the rainbow. In addition to answering patient questions, Jess highlighted a few key diet staples, including cruciferous vegetables, berries, nuts, eggs, and avocados. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll be featuring blogs on the nutritious foods that Jess recommends, and explaining how and why you should include them in your diet. 

Cruciferous Vegetables

Although not everyone’s favorite, cruciferous vegetables are one of the most important types of food you can eat according to WellcomeMD nutritionist Jess Godfrey. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, and leafy green vegetables like mustard greens. Also included are kale, bok choy, Swiss chard, watercress, and some root vegetables, such as rutabaga, turnip and radishes. While people can be turned off by their strong smell or bright color, Jess notes that oftentimes this is a sign that they’re doing good things for your body. The smell comes from sulfur, an amino acid that helps build glutathione, the main antioxidant that works inside of your cells.

Surprisingly, the bright colors found in cruciferous vegetables are a positive characteristic. The reason a nutritionist might tell patients to “eat the rainbow” is because when you visit the produce section of a store, you’ll see every color of the rainbow. Eating a variety of colors is important because those phytochemicals all benefit the body in different ways, and eating the food is better for the body than getting those same nutrients individually from a supplement.  Some of the benefits of cruciferous vegetables are that they have the highest content of vitamin A in all the vegetable categories, in addition to being full of vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid, and manganese. Cruciferous vegetables also contain antioxidants and plenty of fiber. In fact, just 100 calories worth of cruciferous vegetables contains 24-40% of your daily fiber intake.

When you eat your veggies it's best to have some of them cooked and some of them in raw form. Contrary to popular belief, Jess notes that people who are taking thyroid medicine or treating a thyroid condition shouldn’t avoid cruciferous vegetables, but recommends cooking them so as to reduce the amount of goitrogens that would cause the problem. Since cooking vegetables can release some of the nutrients, she also recommends steaming, sauteeing, or roasting them rather than boiling them to prevent certain nutrients from leaching into the water. Once the vegetables are ready to be cooked, cut them up and let them sit for a minute to activate some of the enzymes that might otherwise not get used.

Berries

Everyone likes berries, but did you know that they also have numerous health benefits? Some of the best berries to eat include goji, black raspberries, blackberries, raspberries, wild and cultivated blueberries, elderberries, cranberries, strawberries, and acai berries. Not only do berries have the highest antioxidant content of any fruit, but they also have some of the lowest glycemic index content, meaning that even people who are trying to lose weight and those who have Type 2 Diabetes can eat a cup of fruit a day without having to worry about it negatively impacting their health. The antioxidants in berries reduce inflammation and have been shown to help reduce build-up of LDL (bad) cholesterol.

 Berries also have powerful cancer-fighting properties and various studies have shown that they can improve arterial function by reducing the inflammation that causes endothelial damage to the lining of the blood vessels. Almost any system of your body would benefit from having berries, from your blood vessels to your nerves. As healthy as they are, however, Jess urges her patients to be choosey. Because they’re sprayed with chemicals so often, berries should always be bought organic. As a side tip, berries have just as high of the nutrient content when cooked versus eating them raw, so Jess says there is no need to worry about losing the berry’s health benefits when they are baked.