My self-care practice for the day involved meal prepping for the week. Getting my hands dirty (or purple-y, in this case), whether it’s outside digging in the dirt or inside preparing food, makes me feel more connected to everything around me.
After returning home from the farmers’ market (sadly, the last one this year), my counter tops were quickly filled with a bounty of brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bell peppers, cilantro, blackberries, apples, corn, cantaloupe, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, and carrots were waiting patiently for me to prepare them for their nourishing destiny.
I had at least an hour’s worth of slicing, dicing and storing in my future, and all I could do was smile.
I’m aware that I’m in the minority when it comes to my love for ingredient shopping and prepping. I can’t help but be smitten by the unique shapes and colors – not to mention the still somewhat mysterious nutritional benefits that accompany them.
Every week feels like a culinary science project.
This week’s purple carrots were extra purple-y. Although there were just three or four of them in the entire bunch, my fingers were thoroughly stained in minutes. Anthocyanins, the flavonoid pigment that gives purple carrots their distinct color, are phytochemicals that offer unique health benefits beyond the widely-known nutrient, vitamin A.
Purple carrots were much more common centuries ago in Europe, Asia, India, and the Middle East. Today, the orange carrot is what we most often find on supermarket shelves. There are several theories as to why that is, but suffice it to say that we’re at least seeing a “color comeback” at farmers’ markets across the country.
Some of the benefits of anthocyanins include estrogenic activity, enhanced immune function via cytokine production, anti-inflammatory properties, enhanced memory, antimicrobial properties, inhibition of tumor formation, reduced cancer cell proliferation, decreased capillary permeability and enzyme inhibition.
But these synergistic properties are pretty typical of phytochemicals that are found in real foods.
It’s important to point out that these benefits don’t exactly occur in isolation either. In nature, complicated biological processes are carried out in tandem with other pigments and phytochemicals. They don’t work as well alone. Researchers have described this as a “complex phytochemical cocktail.”
And that’s why it’s difficult, if not impossible, to replicate these health benefits in a lab.
Getting my hands dirty reminds me that I am an active participant in my life, and that I have a personal responsibility to understand how real food supports my health.