Nutrients in foods work best the way they are created in nature–that is, the way that they grew, or in combination with other vital ones that grew alongside them. Often it’s not just the nutrients themselves that are vital, but also the synergy of their various activities in your body. Unfortunately, while foods are going through processing (as when whole wheat is processed into white flour, bleached or unbleached), numerous nutrients are stripped out, and only a select few are added back in by the manufacturers. The result is that processed foods are far less nutritious than foods eaten in a more natural state.
So, you should go heavy on the phytonutrients. Fruits and vegetables are particularly rich in compounds called phytochemicals, which I prefer to call phytonutrients–naturally occurring substances found in plants that have disease-fighting and health-promoting powers. While phytonutrients such as capsaicin (e.g., found in hot red peppers), lycopene, lutein, quercetin, saponins, and terpenes can’t be bought in supplement form, consuming these nutrients in their natural form may provide an extra health benefit from the additive and synergistic combinations of these bioactive substances in whole foods that you would be unlikely to get from a supplement–if any were available. If you hate vegetables or avoid fruits in favor of sweeter desserts, keep in mind that a single serving is only a half- cup of a cooked vegetable, a cup of melon or berries, or a medium-sized piece of fruit.
Certain foods containing phytonutrients may even one day cure diabetes. It was recently discovered that sweet and tart cherries increase insulin production in beta cells by 50 percent (but so far, this effect has only been proven in rodents). These cherries are apparently loaded with anthocyanins, which contribute to the fruit’s bright red color. This phytonutrient can also be found in other bright red, blue, and purple produce such as red grapes, strawberries, and blueberries, as well as in wine, cider, and tea. So far, though, the biggest insulin-enhancing effects appear to come from the type of anthocyanins found in these particular cherries.
Next week, I’ll talk more about why the color of your foods matters.