By: Nicole Vienneau, MSN, RN, NC-BC
This blog was originally published July 28, 2020 on the Blue Monarch Health Blog. It has been edited and used with permission from the author.
When you eat from the rainbow of powerful plant foods, you make a bold choice to build your brain health. When you take care of your brain, you take care of your whole body! Here, I showcase plants alongside the colors of the rainbow, plus science and tips to make eating plants easier and fun.
How Do You Feel When You See a Rainbow?
When was the last time you saw a rainbow? How did you feel when you saw it? Likely you were filled with surprise, excitement and curiosity — likely you said, “I wonder where the pot of gold is?” And if you’ve been fortunate enough to see a double rainbow? Wow!
Now, think of how you feel when you see a bowl of crisp, colorful fruits, veggies and other goodies. Still the same reaction? For some of us, yes! For others, not so much.
But what if you could open up more possibilities when eating plants, knowing that eating from the rainbow will build your brain and overall health and well being?
For many of us, eating fresh plants is hard. For some, it’s not as fun as seeing a rainbow or eating a bag of brightly-colored candy. But I know, in your heart, you know that candy is not as life giving as a bowl filled with fruits and veggies. Plus, it’s likely your momma said, “Eat your veggies!”
Power of Phytonutrients and Phytochemicals To Support Overall Vitality
Phytonutrients, also known as phytochemicals, are found in plant foods like fruits, vegetables, spices, teas, herbs, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts. Plants contain information, and when ingested by humans, plants share the information to help human bodies function effectively. The information from a plant’s nutrients tells your body and cells, and even your DNA, what to do.
For example, phytonutrients stimulate enzymes to get rid of our body’s toxins and they boost your immune cells. Plants regulate your hormones, increase your blood vessels’ elasticity, decrease inflammation and protect you from heart disease. They improve your eye health, your skin tone and keep your brain sharp.
A plant’s information can kill cancer cells, all while making your healthy cells stronger. The fiber within plants feeds your good gut bacteria, and improves the way your body eliminates waste. Some phytonutrients keep blood sugars and cholesterol levels in check, and visually, their colors and shapes make your plate look interesting and beautiful.
ROYGBIV – The Rainbow
Eating foods while imagining ROYGBIV (colors of the rainbow) may help you remember to feel the vitality and excitement of eating powerful plants.
Below, I’ve outlined plant examples for every color of the rainbow, along with one or two tips from science and real-life about why they are powerful for your brain health.
Examples are strawberries, cherries, red bell peppers, red apples, red cabbage, tomatoes, rhubarb, radicchio, red beets, pomegranates, cranberries, watermelon, red potatoes, chilies, raspberries, kidney beans and more!
Tomatoes house the carotenoid lycopene. It has been shown to reduce cellular inflammation, which is a cause of brain aging and cognitive decline.
TIP: We love making simple homemade tomato sauce for our pasta, and here’s our recipe — it is so easy!
- One can of San Marzano tomatoes (any style of tomatoes will do), blend until smooth
- 3 cloves of garlic chopped
- 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
- Simmer for ~ 25 minutes
- Serve over your favorite pasta
Carrots, butternut squash, cantaloupe, peaches, sweet potatoes, oranges, persimmons, pumpkin, paprika and legumes are examples.
I bet you already know that oranges are chock full of vitamin C. Vitamin C helps prevent cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases, so eat up!
TIP: Try putting an orange in the freezer for about 10 minutes, then cut it into 4 pieces to serve as a tasty dessert — fresh and satisfying.
Yellow squash, yellow onion, bananas, lemon, corn, star fruit, Asian pears, pineapple and ginger are examples.
Oxidative stress results when your body can’t neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals, which then causes cellular breakdown and eventual disease over time. Your brain is susceptible to oxidative stress because it performs super-powerful and high-metabolic activity — all-day (and night) long! Yellow antioxidants in plants combat the ill effects of oxidative stress by reducing the inflammatory process.
TIP: Enjoy a healthier version of popcorn than microwave. Invest in an air-popper, pop up about 1/4 cup per person, then add olive oil spray and popcorn salt — easy clean up and a crunchy and quick snack for the family.
Green kale, cabbage, spinach, swiss chard, brussel sprouts, arugula, peas, green onions, asparagus, green grapes, green apples, avocado, green tea, kohlrabi, broccoli, collards, green bean, legumes, plus many other greenies fit into this category.
Green, leafy veggies (and other veggies too) are a fabulous source of lutein, and your brain soaks up and thrives with lutein.
Did you know your eyes are an extension of your neuro system? Studies have shown that people with depleted levels of lutein in the macula area of the eye show cognitive decline earlier than those with higher levels of lutein. Your eyes are watching out for you!
Kale, spinach and parsley have the highest amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin (said like zeo-zan-thin) but eating any dark green veggie will support your lutein ingestion. So chomp, chomp!
TIP: I love a good smoothie in the morning or for an afternoon snack. Here’s a tip to add more powerful greens to your day: Add two sprigs of kale, one of chard, a handful of arugula or other darker green lettuce, an apple and a whole lemon (rind peeled). Blend it up with some coconut water and voila! You’ll easily add lutein to your day! Do you feel your brain boosting already?
Blue, Indigo, Violet
Plums, prunes, grapes, eggplant, purple cabbage, purple asparagus, Spanish onions, purple carrots, black currants, elderberries, blueberries and blackberries are some plants that fit into this category.
Blueberries have anthocyanins that, when eaten daily, showed an enhanced neural response in those with mild cognitive impairment, and they may also protect against Parkinson’s disease. Plus, they are just so sweet and yummy!
TIP: Try adding berries to soda water. Toss a handful of strawberries or raspberries or blueberries — whatever you have — into the bottom of a glass. Mash them up using a fork or muddler, pour in soda water and ice, mix gently.
White isn’t a color of the rainbow, but we can’t leave out this important color. White turnip, potatoes, coconut, garlic, cauliflower, mushrooms, white carrots, jicama, parsnips, white pear, shallots, banana, white rice, oatmeal and soy are some examples.
A six-year study out of Singapore showed that eating mushrooms seemed to have lowered the chances of mild cognitive impairment and improved participant’s brain processing speeds, especially those who ate two or more servings of mushrooms a week.
TIP: Look for veggies (besides potatoes) that are white. I challenge you to explore and add a different white veggie to your plate this weekend!
Walnuts, pecans, almonds, Brazil nuts, dates, mushrooms, potatoes, brown rice, whole wheat bread, rutabaga, quinoa, barley, miso, and legumes fit into this category.
A 2014 study from the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging shows that adults ages 20 to 59 who consistently ate daily servings of walnuts scored significantly higher on cognitive exams than those adults who didn’t eat nuts.
TIP: Add a handful of nuts to oatmeal, a salad or as a mid-afternoon snack. There are many nuts to choose from, so explore!
Eat a wide variety of color, shape, texture and flavor to do what’s best for your brain and your overall health. All the little things you do add up to big improvements in how your brain reacts and responds. Have fun with it!
Nicole Vienneau MSN, RN, NC-BC is the owner and head motivator at Blue Monarch Health, where she combines 20+ years of nursing and 30+ years of fitness and health coaching experience to help her clients uncover their most authentic expression of well-being.
She achieved a Master’s in Nursing Science and holds a board certification in Integrative Nurse Coaching from the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation. Nicole also holds national certifications as a personal trainer, functional aging specialist, brain health trainer, yoga and group fitness instructor and is a proud, crazy cat lady.