How Young Athletes Can "Eat The Rainbow" & Learn to Love Their Veg...
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, at The Academy we're always encouraging our athletes to "eat the rainbow". That is, not only consuming 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables daily, but also aiming to include a variety of colours. Why do we advise this? Well, today we look a little deeper into why a variety of fruits and vegetables is so important for health
Aside from increasing the odds of consuming the variety of vitamins and minerals needed for good health, it turns out that colour is a fairly good indicator of a plant food's phytochemical content. Wait, phyto-what-now?
Phytochemicals are biologically active products that give plant foods their colour. Although not scientifically defined essential nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, each phytochemical imparts its own set of disease-fighting properties. Below, we delve deeper into the health benefits offered by the rainbow of fruits and vegetables.
The pigment of red fruits and vegetables, lycopene, is also a powerful antioxidant that has been associated with a reduced risk of cancer and improved heart health. Tomatoes and tomato-based products are the most concentrated source of lycopene, particularly when cooked as heating allows it to be more easily absorbed by the body.
Other examples of lycopene containing plants are red capsicum, radishes, rhubarb, strawberries, cherries, red apples and watermelon.
Orange plants owe their vibrant hue to carotenoids. The group of carotenoids found include beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, and can all be processed to vitamin A, a nutrient involved in immune function and vision – carrots really do help you to see in the dark! Additionally, a carotenoid called lutein is stored in the eye and has a role in preventing blindness caused by cataracts or macular degeneration. Carotenoids also function as anti-oxidants and may help to prevent cancer and heart disease.
Other than carrots, carotenoids can be found in pumpkin, corn, squash, sweet potato, rockmelon, peaches and apricots.
The pigment chlorophyll gives these fruits and vegetables their colour. However, green plants are a potent source of a range of anti-cancer phytochemicals including carotenoids, indoles and isothiocynates. In addition to its phytochemical punch, green plants are also an excellent source of vitamin K, folate and potassium. Additionally, plants coloured more yellow-green contain lutein for eye health.
Some examples include broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach, asparagus, avocado, green grapes and kiwi fruit.
These plants contain the antioxidant anthocyanin which helps to protect cells from damage to reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease from a heart attack or stroke. Anthocyanins are considered heart healthy and may also support a lower blood pressure, as well as prevent the formation of blood clots.
Anthocyanins are potent in blueberries which have been said to have the highest anti-oxidant activity of all, but can also be found in eggplant, beetroot, red cabbage, blackberries and plums.
Not all phytochemical impart a colour, and colour-free plants still offer a range of health-promoting effects. Flavonoids, for example, are the largest group of phytochemicals and are completely colourless. A specific example is allicin which is not only the source of garlic's distinctive smell, but also has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Additionally, other white fruits and vegetables, such as banana and potatoes, are great sources of potassium to support healthy blood pressure and heart health.
Other examples of brown/white plant foods are brown pear, ginger, parsnip, cauliflower and onion.
Overall, including a variety of colours of fruits and vegetables tends to be associated with better health and lower risk of disease. This is why at The Academy, we believe an important strategy in supporting the health and performance of our athletes is to "eat the rainbow"