(Peru this Week) June means rainbow flags as far as the eye can see. For me, the rainbow is an especially important sign. It of course represents the diversity of the gay community. It is also the flag of Cuzco in my home country of Peru, where it symbolizes the ancient Incan empire. But more than that, the rainbow also signifies the health benefits of eating a full spectrum of natural foods. This June, I invite you to rejuvenate yourself with a rainbow reboot.
A reboot is not a detox. No food can remove impurities from your body. Your organs do that, and as long as they are functioning properly you are detoxing naturally all the time. Still, a diverse and healthy diet can support your organs in their work. It can also help build up your system to defend against toxins or repair damage they create. As I discuss in my latest book, Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet, nutrition can give your body support, and a boost of healthy energy. That’s what I mean by a reboot – not to stop eating, but eating better. One easy way to get the healthy, sustaining nutrients you need is to make smoothies.
Smoothies made of the full rainbow spectrum of foods can boost your immune system and support the repair processes in your cells. That’s because the phytochemicals that give plants their color – the blue in your blueberries, the orange in your carrots ¬ have antioxidant effects, helping to clear away the free radicals in your body. A free radical is an unstable molecule that latches onto healthy cells making them unstable as well, even to the point of contacting our DNA and mutating the strains. The antioxidants in anti-inflammatory fruits, vegetables, herbs, whole grains, and fats can help reduce the number and effect of free radicals by neutralizing free floating free radical throughout the body. But each phytochemical has different strengths, which is why you need to eat a rainbow of them, not just one.
Anthocyanins, for instance, provide the purple in blueberries, some raspberries, or purple potatoes. They have powerful antioxidant effects. Carotene, which gives carrots and orange melons their color, has also been shown to preserve cognitive function as we age. Lycopene, which makes tomatoes red, has been shown to reduce cholesterol in the blood. But these effects are also cumulative. No single food is a magic bullet. But all of these healthy pigments together can provide support for your body. That’s why you don’t just want to use green vegetables in your smoothie. You want the full diversity of the rainbow.
(Photo: Manuel Villacorta)
So how do you make the perfect smoothie? Here are a few basic tips:
1. Use the whole rainbow. My smoothies might include pichuberries, strawberries, purple potatoes, pineapple, red quinoa, sweet potatoes, maca, and all the other colors of the fruit and vegetable rainbow. The most important principle is a diversity of colors and kinds of ingredients, to include the full spectrum of nutrients.
2. Mix fruits and vegetables. You don’t want just fruits because the smoothies will be high in sugars that they will shoot up your insulin levels, shortly followed by a crash. Elevated insulin also increases belly fat. On the other hand, you don’t just want vegetables because you will get hungry again too quickly. Mix both. A rule of thumb is to use 1 to 1 ½ cups of fruit per serving and 1-2 cups of vegetables.
3. Add fat. Most people forget to add fat to a smoothie, but it’s crucial that you do because many of the phytonutrients are fat soluble. Vitamins A, D, E and K are all fat soluble, for instance, meaning that your body can’t absorb them in the absence of fat. They will just pass right through. Fat (along with the fiber from vegetables) will also help prevent hunger spikes by slowing down the absorption of glucose from the fruits. For healthy fat I like to add chia seeds, flax seeds, avocado, cacao, walnuts, or almonds.
4. Make it a meal. Unlike a detox, a smoothie is not about denying yourself food. In fact, it’s the opposite – a smoothie should be fulfilling, and sustaining. That’s why I often add some protein powder to my smoothies to make them a complete meal. A properly made smoothie can replace one of your daily meals – without your ever being or even feeling deprived.
5. Express yourself. There’s no single “right” way to eat healthily. That’s why you should use as wide a range of foods as possible, and explore different flavor combinations, but also include the things you love. Like berries? Throw them in! Enjoy peanut butter? Why not! When I talk about eating the rainbow I mean a diversity of healthy nutrients, but including the flavors you truly enjoy.
In the spirit of gay pride month, it’s worth remembering that the rainbow isn’t just colors. It means opportunity: the rebirth after a storm. It also represents expanding ourselves to embrace more of the world. In eating the rainbow, you rejuvenate your body, and you explore new tastes.
This can be a delicious and well balanced breakfast choice.
1 cup cubed papaya
1/2 cup sliced strawberries
1/4 cup cubed raw beets
1 cup cubed yellow squash zucchini
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 leaves of mint
1 slice ginger
20-25 grams protein powder (rice, pea, soy or whey)
1 1/2 cups coconut water
Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Add tap water until the smoothie reaches the desired consistency.
Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice, MV Nutrition, award winning nutrition and weight loss center in San Francisco. He is the founder and creator of Eating Free, an international weight management and wellness program and author of three books, Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes, and his newest book, Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet to Detoxify, Energize, and Supercharge Fat Loss