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10,000 Reasons to Eat Your Veggies!

Here’s a rundown of my recent show with Deanna Minich. Click here to listen to it or listen to the podcast on iTunes. Search for Elevate Your Energy in the iTunes store, download the Podcasts app, and subscribe for free!

Dr. Deanna Minich’s exposure to healthy food goes back to her childhood when her mother became interested in food and spirituality while pregnant with Deanna’s younger brother. ([3:16]) “It was the ‘70s and it wasn’t cool to be a ‘health fanatic’. I felt scarred by it as a child and actually had eating issues and trouble making peace with it.” Ultimately, however, she says felt grateful for the early education in whole, natural foods.

I asked her, based on her experience, if she believed there can be negative consequences when you make your kids eat healthier ([6:23]). “I think it’s about the approach,” she said. She recommends not taking an overly strict stance and banning certain foods since most kids will naturally rebel against any limitations. “I think for children the biggest thing is locus of control. Offer choice so the child feels he or she can choose.”

Making food fun for your kids is always a good tip for helping them try new foods and learning to like them. Deanna shared that there is a “food face” plate that has two eyes, a nose, and a mouth that encourages kids to have fun with their meals, such as making peas a smile, and salad the hair.

Vegetables and Their Nutritional Punch

Next, we jumped into her area of expertise as a nutritionist: vegetables and their nutritional punch, phytochemicals/phytonutrients ([10:38]) – the nutrients from plants, that non-descript, non-specific part of plants that can give a plant its color. Orange and red vegetables, for instance, carry the phytonutrient carotenoid.

How many phytonutrients are there?

We’re not sure, but Dr. Deanna says that the last official estimate (six years ago) determined anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 different phytonutrients in our food supply. One of the main reasons they are so important is due to the powerful impact they make on our bodies at a cellular level.

However, Dr. Deanna reports that nearly 80% of Americans are phytonutrient-deficient ([13:00]), getting only 3.6 servings of vegetables a day versus the recommended 12-15 servings a day. Since phytonutrients present in the vibrant colors of the rainbow, you can start evaluating how you’re doing by looking at your plate – what colors are represented? According to Deanna, it’s probably not too much of blue or purple and the nutrients they contain. This research shows these phytochemicals are the least ingested of all. Likely, it’s because the amount of foods in these categories is slim – though they are growing, says Deanna: from purple Peruvian potatoes (which are low-glycemic!) to black Forbidden rice.

How do phytonutrients work to reduce the risk of certain illnesses ([17:11])?

Dr. Deanna says that there is no phytonutrient that doesn’t correlate to reducing illness in some way. Scientific literature says that veggies are great for warding off cancer, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. They help reduce inflammation at a cellular level, keep insulin and glucose balanced, and reduce stress response and cortisol levels.

Even though most people know that vegetables are good for them, they don’t eat them – or, at least not enough to receive their full benefits. Dr. Deanna believes if people understand how to eat more and why they should, they would. One quick fact to keep in mind is that diversity in your veggies makes a big difference – they work better as a team.

The Impact of Color and Your Food

([20:42]) Let’s talk about that how question a little more: Start with breakfast. A typical American breakfast tends to be heavy in white, brown, and yellow food (think cereal, toast, and orange juice). So a helpful tip is to think, “How can I get in a lot more color?” Smoothies fit the bill well and easily. Simply dump a ton of colorful fruits and vegetables and blend and you’re off to a great start.

Dr. Deanna shared her favorite morning smoothie recipe, which I definitely want to try soon. She promises it’s super tasty AND anti-inflammatory. Combine coconut water and coconut milk, raw almonds, a little spinach, two pitted dates, and a few shakes of turmeric, cardamom, and ginger, with part of a banana thrown in to make the texture extra smooth.

Dr Deanna Minich - Pytonutrients and Food

“You have a pharmacy in your kitchen in your spice cabinet.”

Turmeric in a smoothie? Yes, says Deanna. “You have a pharmacy in your kitchen in your spice cabinet. A key function they serve is to help to prevent the damage that can occur with cooking; spices are very medicinal.” ([25:30]) She notes that rosemary acts protectively when combined with meat that is cooked on the grill, where food can take on carcinogens from the charring.

Also, load up on your avocado – something I am more than happy to do ([26:53]). The phytonutrients in avocados also protect against the cooking process, reducing inflammation and the narrowing of blood vessels. Half an avocado on a burger should do the trick.

Many foods and spices pack a greater protective punch when combined. Turmeric and black pepper are a power couple, more powerful together than alone, thanks to their additive and synergistic effects.

I was curious about Dr. Deanna’s take on the Mediterranean diet and the role phytonutrients might play in its widely reported benefits. ([29:19]) Olive oil is a primary staple in that region’s diet, so we looked at that first. The olive by itself contains hundreds of different compounds, making it very potent. When shopping for olive oil, look for the extra virgin variety that looks a little cloudy in the bottle – the cloudiness is actually the phytochemicals inside!


Each color represents a different phytonutrient in food.

Phytonutrients and Their Color Representation

We’ve been told to “eat the rainbow”, but I wanted to know why, specifically – what phytonutrients do the colors represent? ([31:17])

Red compounds (lutein and carotenoids) convert into Vitamin A in the body, so in men, we see protective effects in their glands. It also goes into our skin and acts as an internal sunscreen. We’ve been told carrots help improve vision, and it turns out that it does so by protecting against macular degeneration in the back of the eye and also increases night vision. Carotenoids, in particular, should be cooked because it needs heat to set them free and make the phytonutrients more bioavailable in our bodies.

The blue/purple family goes into the brain and is responsible for learning and memory.

Green foods contain chlorophyll and phytoestrogens, which are effective for heart health. Dr. Deanna says that she adds mint chlorophyll to her water for the antioxidant properties. And we know that green tea contains powerful phytonutrients, with benefits seen fairly quickly.

White and brown food aren’t all bad, either. Cacao, for instance, contains protective flavanoids.

How to Best Cook Your Veggies

When it comes to cooking your veggies, Dr. Deanna says steaming is best ([36:45]). When the vegetable’s colors become vibrant, stop steaming – they are ready to eat.

Of course, it’s good to get a mix of raw and cooked veggies. When greens are cooked, for instance, you lose Vitamin C. But, like I mentioned before, cooking releases the carotenoids in tomatoes, so it’s important to learn what method will make your veggies the most nutritious.

Combining Food and Spirit

([40:30]) Dr. Deanna has a unique approach to nutrition – she combines food and spirit: “I’m a science, geeky person, but also on the other spectrum, I know there is more than meets the eye.” She has developed a Food and Spirit program based on what she says are the seven aspects of you: sense of love; insight; spirit; root; flow; fire; and truth. Each aspect connects to a color and to the traditional medicine systems and endocrine system. “Eating can be very spiritual,” she says.

Her program is a 12-week online program (, and she’s already had people from all over the globe signed up. “They really do want an integrated framework,” she says. “So we take science and spirituality and fuse them together. We fuse them with the food experience, where food is the messenger and the person is the recipient.”

I think I see another show in our future…

Photo Credit: MarkyBon via Compfight cc

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