Phytonutrients— There’s More Than Meets the Eye
By Ritamarie Loscalzo
As I talk to clients and students in my programs, I’m often asked ”what’s the diet? ”
And my answer is always the same. “It depends”
As much as I speak and write about food, and what I refer to as functional food, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.
There’s so much information and misinformation about what is supposedly the perfect diet.
The truth is, there are as many perfect diets as there are people. Each individual has to determine what is right for them based on their unique physiology and special needs.
The relationship a person has with food is one of the most important and (more than likely) complicated relationships in their life.
It can bring joy, pain, guilt and regret. It can support health or support disease.
And regardless of how unhealthy it may be, you can’t just quit eating. Everyone must eat to survive.
As a functional healthcare practitioner, helping clients recognize the importance of this relationship and the impact it’s having on their life is one of the most critical services I can provide.
It’s also the most rewarding.
I get to share in a client’s joy as balance is restored and a new lease on life is found, one they never thought possible. I want you to have the same success.
From the second you start chewing your food, a process begins that has taken thousands of years to evolve.
Saliva, with help from the oral microbiome, starts an enzymatic breakdown of the food matrix which begins to release the nutrients needed for optimal health.
Chewing food well, to the point of liquefaction, is one of the first steps to gaining the most benefit from the food you eat.
As food moves through the digestive tract how, when, where, and IF these nutrients become bioavailable depends on countless factors.
Mental state, the quality of food, possible contaminants, the condition and balance of body systems, and maybe most importantly, the health of the microbiome, will either aid or inhibit absorption.
If these nutrients are not properly absorbed, a good diet won’t have the impact it should or could have.
Being able to identify the culprits that are causing the imbalances that prevent absorption is key to lasting health. It’s a primary focus of my Nutritional Endocrinology Practitioner Training (NEPT) program
The curriculum fills in the missing pieces not found in most practitioners’ earlier education.
NEPT provides what’s needed to gain a complete understanding of the complicated issues a client may face. This understanding, in conjunction with a practitioner’s support, enables clients to resolve chronic problems at the root level and achieve their best health.
It’s the reason why functional healthcare practitioners are so vital to true, lasting health care.
The basic premise of scientific reductionism makes it incapable of understanding the all-important way in which the constituents in functional food work synergistically to provide health benefits.
These benefits can only be gained by eating food in its original matrix. This is why it is so important to eat whole, minimally processed food in order to maximize the full health potential a diet composed primarily of plants has to offer.
Research based approaches work well to isolate and identify micro nutritive compounds and what body systems they support. For example, carotenoids are a phytonutrient that form retinol and are then transported to the eye where it’s converted to retinal, an essential factor for vision.
There are literally thousands of these phytonutrients (lifespan essentials) found in food that support health and longevity.
What is the best way to incorporate as many of these nutrients as possible in a diet?
It’s not just about color.
Color vs no color.
The general rule is the more colors on a plate the better. However, there is a wide range of phytonutrients that are not visible to the human eye.
Sulforaphane is one, a cruciferous vegetable powerhouse now known to protect against just about every chronic illness there is.
Just because it’s a white vegetable, like cauliflower, doesn’t mean it lacks nutrients. Be sure to include a wide range of all fresh vegetables even if they don’t have vivid color.
It’s also important to include different parts of a plant: leaves, stems, and roots. Each carries its own type of nutrition.
When you eat just the leaves of a plant, like various types of lettuce, they have similar benefits. The same is true for root vegetables. Eating a variety of plant parts will add even more diversity to a diet.
Different tastes also add nutritional variety. A recent study found participants had lower blood pressure and blood sugar when they ate bitter and strong-tasting vegetables for 12 weeks.
Don’t forget herbs.
Adding fresh or dried herbs to meals is often the most overlooked way to add powerful nutrients and adaptogens to a diet.
the functional food guide put together highlights some great sources.
Some closing thoughts.
Diet is just one of my 7 Body Freedom Pillars, but it’s quite possibly the pillar that people have the most control over. The more you understand that your relationship with food is foundational to your wellbeing, the greater chance you have of avoiding the consequences of the broken healthcare system.
Like Dr. Mark Hyman has said, “You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet.”
A diet rich in a wide variety of functional foods is critical to optimal health. Food sensitivities, which often morph into “food religions”, can seriously restrict this needed diversity.
A properly conducted elimination and provocation protocol can bring clarity and healing.
When the gut is healed, the food that once had to be avoided has a chance of being successfully reintroduced.
I’ve summarized my unique protocol in previous blogs, but support for the entire process can be found in the Body Freedom Nutrition Lab.
Real food is key to achieving optimal health. It will always be part of the conversation. In fact, new research is pointing to functional food as having a profound impact on the immune system in ways never believed possible.
My podcast, ReInvent Healthcare, was started to deepen the conversation about how practitioners who want to make a real difference can empower clients to achieve their best health. We’ve recorded a series of shows called Functional Food Facts to explore the relationship between food and body function.
In Nutrition, Can We “See” What Is Good for Us? – PMC
Why eating colourful food is good for you – BBC Future
Bioavailability of bioactive food compounds: a challenging journey to bioefficacy – PMC
Sulforaphane Bioavailability from Glucoraphanin-Rich Broccoli: Control by Active Endogenous Myrosinase – PMC
Strong and Bitter Vegetables from Traditional Cultivars and Cropping Methods Improve the Health Status of Type 2 Diabetics: A Randomized Control Trial – PubMed
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Medical Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Ritamarie Loscalzo, drritamarie.com, and the experts who have contributed. We encourage you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
Disclosure: Sometimes (but not always), when I share resources in my programs, newsletter, and on my website, I'm using an affiliate link, which means I do make money if you buy. My credibility is extremely important to me; therefore, I only endorse the products, services, and people I believe in. DrRitamarie.com is independently owned and the opinions expressed here are my own.
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