Colourful, versatile and healthy – why colour and variety are great on your plate

Colourful, versatile, healthy?

Vegetables come in many different shapes and colours. Every type of vegetable has its own qualities and although some varieties are related to others, they are often different in many little ways. Vegetables also contain secondary plant substances as well as many valuable vitamins and minerals. These are what give fruit and vegetables their colours and create their unmistakable flavours. What’s more, they protect the plants themselves and help them to survive, by scaring off pathogens and predators and attracting pollinating insects.

How do secondary plant substances affect us?

Sulphides are what gives leeks, onions and garlic their flavours and aromas. They have antioxidant (cell-protecting) properties and have been associated with a lower risk of cancer. Brassicas contain glucosinolates. These secondary plant substances are also thought to reduce the risk of cancer. Another plant substance with health benefits is the carotenoids responsible for yellow, orange and red colours of vegetables such as pumpkins or carrots. Carotenoids have anti-inflammatory, antioxidative properties, which may contribute to preventing cardiovascular diseases and age-related eye diseases. Last but not least, there are flavonoids. These substances are also colours and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer due to their antioxidant properties. Flavonoids are primarily found in berries, grapes and apples.

This means that variety and different colour combinations of vegetables are not only nice to look at, but provide you with precious secondary plant substances along with the many vitamins and minerals. What’s more, changing your menu regularly will also make your intestinal flora very happy.

Why do we have intestinal flora?

Our intestines are home to hundreds of types of bacteria. Every microbiome – the technical name for all the bacteria, viruses, fungi and single-cell organisms that live in our intestines – is unique. One microbiome consists of 39 trillion of these tiny life forms – that’s more than the number of cells in a single human body. Between them they make up approximately two kilograms of our weight. Unbelievable, right?

We couldn’t live without our intestinal flora. They work incredibly hard and help us to digest the food we eat. For example, they help us to digest plant fibres that we can’t digest on our own. This is how we extract the vitamins and minerals from our food. In addition, by processing our food they also produce approximately 30% of the energy for our bodies. Bacteria are even able to produce important messenger substances such as dopamine or serotonin. Our intestinal flora depends on many things, including sufficient plant fibre – it will die if it does not get enough.
The intestinal flora has a huge impact on our health. It plays a decisive role in immune system development. It can eliminate pathogenic germs and so protect us from diseases. Diverse intestinal flora has a positive effect on conditions such as diabetes, excess weight and inflammatory intestinal diseases, and 95% of the bacteria help us to combat stress, allergies and cancer. They can even affect our mood, our brain and our mental health.

How can I support my intestinal flora?

Variety is the be-all and end-all, because one-sided diets result in less variety in the intestines. A diverse microbiome is highly beneficial for our health. Our intestinal flora really should not be underestimated. If you would like the composition of your intestinal flora to be as varied and colourful as possible, then try to vary the many foodstuffs available to you. But make sure that most foods that you consume are as unprocessed as possible (i.e., no or few convenience foods). For example, combine different colours of food. Plant fibres are primarily found in the leaves and stems of vegetables.


Ensure variety in your menu and give yourself and your intestinal flora a boost!

 

 

 

 

References
Groll, T. (2020, 27 September). Warum wir unsere Darmbakterien nicht unterschätzen sollten. Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen. https://www.srf.ch/wissen/gesundheit/helfer-fuer-psyche-und-koerper-warum-wir-unsere-darmbakterien-nicht-unterschaetzen-sollten
König, L. M., & Renner, B. (2018). Colourful = healthy? Exploring meal colour variety and its relation to food consumption. Food Quality and Preference, 64, 66-71. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2017.10.011
Lang, U. E., Beglinger, C., Schweinfurth, N., Walter, M., & Borgwardt, S. (2015). Nutritional aspects of depression. Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry, 37(3), 1029-1043. https://doi.org/10.1159/000430229
Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Ernährung. (n. d.). Schweizer Lebensmittelpyramide. https://www.sge-ssn.ch/ich-und-du/essen-und-trinken/ausgewogen/schweizer-lebensmittelpyramide/

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