In the modern American diet, we are often very fixated on numbers and quantities: calories, protein, carbohydrates, fats. Low-carb, high-protein, high-fat, low-fat. Gluten free, dairy free, zero calorie, zero sugar. Or better yet: “everything in moderation” which is often the phrase that puts a band-aid solution on some of our regularly poor to mediocre food choices.

What if we re-framed our fixation on quantities to more, high quality foods, more often? Let’s talk about bioactive compounds–plant-based chemicals found in the whole form of foods that don’t contain calories; it’s not a protein, carbohydrate or fat. While they are not necessary for us to live and function, but they do carry benefits that allow us to be healthy and function more optimally.

Bioactive compounds such as polyphenols, carotenoids, fibers, and even those found in essential oils serve as powerful antioxidants in our body, as well as other lifelong benefits such as lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, increasing brain health and digestion, gut health, and increased life span as they act as protectants against diseases like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

What do antioxidants do for us anyway? They reduce inflammatory responses in the body and improve immune function and they also fight off free radicals found in toxins that enter our body that damage cells and can cause diseases. Toxins we accumulate often come from chlorine or pesticides that are found in homes or even in cleaning products for public spaces, or pesticides or preservatives on/in our foods. Therefore, antioxidants help us fight off these free radicals found in these toxins.

How to incorporate more bioactive foods into your diet? It’s simple–eat more real food in their whole form (meaning, not broken down into something like “cauliflower pizza crust” or other commercialized or processed versions of whole foods). Here are a few great sources of different bioactive compounds found in foods:

Polyphenols: apples, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, onions, berries, turmeric, flax seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, black tea, cocoa powder, coffee, dark chocolate, ginger, green tea, olives and olive oil, red wine and vinegar

Carotenoids: carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, papayas, watermelon, cantaloupe, kale, bell peppers and oranges

Fibers: in most vegetables, fruits, seeds, and several whole grains such as brown or wild rice, oats

Each of these are just some options to consider when thinking about eating more bioactive foods. They contain powerful plant-based chemicals that allow our bodies to fight off toxins, improve our overall health and functioning both physically and mentally. So the next time we find ourselves over-consumed with the numbers game when it comes to our food, simplify your eating by focusing on increasing the quality of foods from sources such as those listed above. In addition to the necessary nutritional components such as protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals (a.k.a macronutrients and micronutrients respectively).

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