Essential nutrients in whole foods

Essential nutrients in whole foods

Many of us are well aware that fresh fruit and vegetables and other ‘whole foods’ are good sources of vitamins and minerals. What we may not know is that they also contain important compounds or nutrients which can help protect us from some serious chronic illnesses.

‘Whole foods are the broad group of fresh, whole, unprocessed foods, from brown rice to whole fruit and vegetables, and there are compounds found in them that have been shown to be particularly protective of our health,’ says Pam Stone, director of education at Blackmores.

‘These are additional compounds, over and above their vitamin and mineral content.

‘It’s a very broad class of compounds, and many whole foods contain hundreds of natural ingredients that have been shown to be beneficial for health.

‘Lycopene [found in tomatoes] is a good example: it’s not classed as an essential vitamin, that is, you won’t die if you don’t get it, but it’s one of the many hundreds of chemical compounds found in plants which can have anti-oxidant or anti-inflammatory effects. Lycopene, for example, has an anti-inflammatory effect on the prostate gland.’

Another example is lutein, found in spinach and other  green, leafy vegetables, which has ‘an anti-oxidant effect in the retina, helping to protect against age-related eye disease.’

Are you getting enough?

While awareness of the importance of whole food nutrients is growing, Australians still aren’t consuming enough fruit and vegetables to satisfy dietary guidelines, Pam says, which means they’re not able to enjoy the added health benefits of a diet rich in nutrients.

‘We’re not getting to square one in terms of our intake of fresh fruit and vegetables,’ she says. ‘The alarming statistics found in the latest national health survey, which was about 4 years ago, showed that only 50% of Australians over the age of 15 met the daily intake for fruit, and only 10% for vegetables.

‘Most of us just aren’t eating those 5 generous serves of vegetables a day that get us on our way; and vegetables are even more important than fruit.’

Pam says she suspects it’s sheer busyness that prevents us from eating as healthily as we should.

‘It’s our pace of life,’ she says. ‘We’re working longer hours, juggling multiple roles and so we’re not analysing our diets throughout the day, and so not getting our five serves of veg to meet those requirements.

‘We’re going for convenience, and so not steaming or baking our vegetables every night.’

While making an effort to eat our vegetables is more important than eating fruit, Pam says that in general, the rule is to try and eat widely.

‘The more variety of foods you eat, the more likely you are to benefit from the anti-oxidant superfoods that are out there for the taking.

‘Pharmacy assistants have a role in supporting their customers’ overall health and wellbeing, and that’s where they can remind their customers and educate them about the benefits of eating a wide diet consisting of whole foods to get those superfood nutrients.

‘And it’s also about reminding people that this isn’t just hearsay: there’s a lot of research now that shows these natural plant compounds are assisting with protection from a range of the major chronic illnesses that we battle with today.

‘A lot of these illnesses have a major dietary component, so here’s an area where we can harness the protective effect of diet.’

Blackmores has just introduced NutriMulti + Wholefood Nutrients, to provide nutritional support for people who don’t obtain these plant nutrients from diet alone. It contains white tea, a rich source of antioxidants; reishi mushrooms, which are high in phytonutrients; spirulina, a rich source of betacarotene; and wheat grass, a source of chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals, proteins and enzymes.

Searching for superfoods

Pam suggests several strategies for incorporating healthy nutrients into the diet:

  • Incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables of the seven different colour groups to maximise your intake. The groups are: red, orange-yellow, orange, red-purple, white-green, green and yellow-green.
  • Eat what’s fresh and in season. For example, oranges are high in vitamin C, a known immunity booster, and are ripe and in season during winter when many of us are prone to colds and flu.
  • Try and maintain at least five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit each day.
  • The darker the colour, the richer the food’s nutrients; so opt for dark vegetables like spinach and beetroot to reap the most benefit. Colour, variety and freshness can be used as a guide to getting the whole food nutrients your body uses for health and wellbeing.
  • Experiment with healthy recipes from celebrity chefs!

by Megan Haggan