Crisis hour support: Building immunity by ‘eating a rainbow’

Rainbow collage of colourful fruits and vegetables. Image source: Nicole Cullinan

By now we are all doing our bit to flatten the corona curve. Those who can, are working from home, schools and recreational venues are closed. We are self-isolating, avoiding handshakes and washing our hands more frequently and meticulously than normal. Maybe you were wondering if there is more you can do to stay healthy and optimise your immunity?

In a further effort to avoid getting sick, people should obviously be trying to eat as healthy as possible. Restaurant closures have forced us to eat more home-cooked meals. Stocking up on a variety of fresh wholefood ingredients happens to be more important than stockpiling hand sanitiser and toilet paper in my household! This is because I have studied and believed in the healing power of certain foods and the value of a healthy diet for immunity building and disease prevention. Cooking for me is a relaxing, creative outlet. This helps enormously in taking the ‘chore’ out of daily meal preps and following a healthy diet, as a lifestyle and not limited to current crisis times. If food be your medicine, let your kitchen be your pharmacy, is what I say!

Eat your fruits and vegetables

Is the key to health as obvious as what our mothers and grandmothers always told us: to eat our fruits and vegetables! Or is it about avoiding unwholesome processed foods, alcohol and sugar to name but a few well-known culprits … or perhaps a bit of both?

These messages may sound way too simple to be deeply impactful. But these are strange times indeed… a time of forced rest, slowing down and staying at home. Should you be searching for answers to the how-to-build-resilience-and-stay-healthy puzzle, this could be just the time and space you need to get invaluable feedback.

Ancient wisdom vs Modern science

The idea of listening to ancient wisdom and going back to nature has always appealed to me. And when modern science can provide me with substantial explanations, I am completely converted. So, is there any science to support why we should follow the advice of our wise forebearers and eat our fruits and vegetables?

Eating a rainbow

Yes, there is and plenty of it! Eating especially a rainbow of colourful fruits and vegetables is important for building a strong immune system and numerous other health benefits. In nature and commercial farming, all plant foods have a signature colour. Strawberries are red, oranges are orange, broccoli is green, blueberries are blue, garlic is white, tea is green, turmeric is yellow and pepper is black.

The colours in food relate to families of plant pigments. Furthermore, colour is indicative of nutrient content and heralds the presence of different antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. For that reason, creating and consuming meals that use nature’s full palette of phytonutrients, is more than a feast for the eyes. A diet that incorporates a rainbow of fruit and vegetable ingredients can have many positive health and vitality outcomes.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants help the immune system repair and mop up after infections and the toxic insults of modern living. They support our cells in reducing everyday ‘wear and tear’ which is called oxidation. Among other important functions, antioxidants can also remove the cellular ‘rust’ that builds up, switch off the inflammation, slow the natural ageing process and repair damaged DNA.

Plant pigments

Research has isolated and named active compounds responsible for the different pigments and antioxidant effects. For example, blueberries contain the rare blue-purple anthocyanins, red tomatoes lycopene, beta carotene is in orange carrots, yellow zeaxanthin is in corn and curcumin is in turmeric root, brown tannins are in tea. Chlorophyll which is a ubiquitous life-giving green pigment is present in spinach and all green plants and algae such as chlorella and spirulina.

The Beige diet

Many people eat a mostly beige diet and don’t include enough colour in their daily food repertoire. Beige includes the spectrum from white to brown. Beige foods such as potatoes, dairy and grains undoubtedly have nutritional value. But when these beige foods form the greatest proportion of our daily meals and snacks, health problems can arise.

Given how affordable processed beige foods are in our modern world, their abundance, ease of access to them and addictive tastes, it is not surprising how much of them most people crave and consume.

I love the approach that uses colour as a guide to healthy eating. This is a simple but scientifically validated way to ensure that you are consuming a full spectrum of plant-derived nutrients in your diet and an inspiring solution to lifestyle disease relating to ‘the beige diet’.

Food vs Supplementation

Most people agree with the logic that we should try to get all our nutritional needs from the food we eat. The reality is often challenging and there may be a place for supplementation. Can and do supplements fill these nutrient gaps and deliver improved health and wellbeing?

Supplements take the form of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fats, herbs and other plant extracts or a combination of the above ingredients. They may indeed help you to optimise your health by filling in the nutritional gaps left by a beige diet.

However, a food supplement is something to take in addition to your best healthy diet. It is not a replacement for good clean food. We know this because colourful plant foods provide a synergy of nutrients that supplements do not.

Pigments of imagination?

It doesn’t matter whether you are a vegan, paleo or have no specific dietary preference. Just by using all nature’s tints and tones and increasing the number of colourful fruits and vegetables in your meals, it can help you to build a stronger immune system. It could also be another valuable intervention to not only flatten the current corona curve but also build long term population resilience.

But don’t take it from me (or the scientists), go on and try it! Discover if the health benefits of eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables are more than a pigment of your grandmother’s imagination…

About the author: Nicole is a wife, mother to 2 teenagers, writer and health & lifestyle educator. She uses her master’s degree training and almost 20 years of clinical experience with classical homoeopathy and functional medicine to provide personalized solutions for her international client base. As a South African living in Eindhoven, she has a passion for nature, food, sustainable living and empowering health seekers. She created The Wellness Place for those looking to reclaim and maintain their health. For more information, follow her on The Wellness Place on Facebook.

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