News & tips on health, fitness and nutrition

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Phytonutrient Color Connection

Color might trump quantity when it comes to fruit and veggie consumption.

In 2005 the revamped Dietary Guidelines for Americans upped the federal recommendations for fruits and vegetables from 5-9 servings to 5-13 servings per day for adults. But despite the recommendations and known health benefits of fruits and vegetables, nearly 80% of Americans aren’t consuming a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, forfeiting plant-based compounds that offer a wide range of health benefits. This lapse, addressed in a new study titled “America’s Phytonutrient Report,” from Buena Park, CA-based Nutrilite Health Institute, has created a “phytonutrient gap” with potential health consequences.

Though the report did not seek to establish Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for phytonutrients because they are not considered “essential” to human health, it instead determined “Prudent Intake” (PI), or a desirable phytonutrient intake level for health, using datasets from the USDA and National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES)—a publicly accessible, continuously updated survey that details what thousands of Americans eat on a regular basis compiled by the CDC.

America’s Phytonutrient Report focused on 14 select phytonutrients, including carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein/zeaxanthin), flavonoids (anthocyanidins, epigallocatechin 3-gallate, hesperitin, quercetin), phenolics (ellagic acid, resveratrol), isothiocyanates, isoflavones and allicin.

The 14 phytonutrients of interest were grouped into color categories based on their primary pigments. These groupings allowed for the quantification of the percent of Americans with a “phytonutrient gap” to be ascertained by color.

Based on the analyses of this report, Americans are falling short in virtually every color category of fruit and vegetable phytonutrients: 69% fall short in green, 78% fall short in red, 86% fall short in white, 88% fall short in purple/blue and 79% fall short in yellow/orange—meaning on average, eight out of 10 Americans have a phytonutrient gap.

“Ideally,” read the report, “Americans should seek approximately 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, which could be interpreted as two servings from each color category presented.”

The Obesity Link

While Nutrilite contended that the phytonutrient consumption could offer a wide range of potential health benefits, ranging from promoting eye, bone and heart health to supporting brain and immune function, the correlation between rising obesity rates and shrinking fruit and vegetable consumption is also noteworthy, said Rachel Cheatham, PhD, vice president, Nutrition Communications for New York-based Weber Shandwick, who also oversaw the creation, data analysis and writing of the Nutrilite report. “Along with vitamins, minerals and fiber, fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients that provide a range of health benefits,” she said. “Fruits and vegetables are lower in calories which can help stem the tide of obesity, and yet, Americans are not eating enough of them.”

A simple message, she explained, is that whole foods should be first, along with the message to choose richer and more vibrantly colored foods whenever possible. “Beyond this,” the report said, “dietary supplementation may be an option for individuals looking to reduce their phytonutrient gap.”

To that end, Nutrilite recently kicked off a new consumer education campaign designed to close the phytonutrient gap by making consumers aware of the color of their foods and the health benefits they provide.

Nutrilite’s website offers a bevy of useful tips and tools including a helpful guide that brings the colors outlined in the report to life to help consumers to make the visual connection between fruit/veggie color and phytonutrients offered, as well as Your Daily Phytonutrient Snapshot, a tool that helps consumers determine by color which fruits and vegetables they need to eat more of to help fill their own individual phytonutrient gap.

“In 2010, Nutrilite will be doing local-market programs designed to increase awareness about phytonutrients and will be giving away free fruits and vegetables in five cities while supplies last,” added Dr. Cheatham.

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