Plant-based foods produce naturally occurring components called phytonutrients (also referred to as phytochemicals) that appear to offer health benefits beyond basic nourishment.
Thousands of phytonutrients exist, but only a few hundred have been studied. Research reveals that different plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains provide different phytonutrients in varying amounts. These phytonutrients appear to promote health by triggering body processes that may reduce the risk for developing some diseases.
Although the specific actions and benefits of phytonutrients remain uncertain, there is overwhelming evidence supporting health benefits from eating plant-based foods. Phytonutrients also provide color, aroma and flavor that make food appealing. They are categorized according to biochemical characteristics and the probable protective functions.
A great method to include a wide variety of phytonutrients as well as other nutrients in the diet is to select many different colors of plant-based foods. Grouping foods by color is helpful when choosing several colors in a meal or for snacks.
Add phytonutrients to a meal with simple additions to the plate. Deep yellow acorn squash cut artfully can be served around other foods. I like to bake assorted shapes in an 8-by-11 glass baking dish with a half-inch of water at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Cut the squash in half creating two round halves with scalloped edges. Remove the seeds and pulp from both halves. Remove the stem and place that half cut-side down in the baking dish. Once cooked, this will be a squash “bowl” that will hold leftover reheated brown rice with raisins added to it.
Next, cut a 1-inch slice from the other half of the squash to form a ring, and place it in the baking dish.
Once cooked, the ring can be filled with many different foods such as pureed carrots with a quarter-cup of orange juice.
Cut a half-inch slice of squash to make another ring and put it in the baking dish and fill this ring with diced red pear and sprinkle it with walnuts and cinnamon. The remaining end can be placed in the baking dish with the cut-side down and served sprinkled lightly with allspice and simply placed on the plate by itself.
Once you get started, the only limit is your creativity.
Another way to use phytonutrient-rich foods is as edible garnish. Serve grilled chicken breasts on a bed of wilted dark green spinach. About four cups of spinach with a little water will cook in three to four minutes in a skillet over medium heat.
Sliced tomato sprinkled lightly with reduced fat feta cheese is a great way to finish any plate.
Fruit medley pairs beautifully and deliciously with a variety of food. I like sliced strawberries, topped with orange cutie segments and blueberries.
Becky will teach Learn with Lunch classes featuring Cream of Potato & Leek Soup, Tomato Basil & Beef Soup and Pumpkin Muffins at the following times:
Class size is limited, call 302-6273, ext. 332, for reservations.