Have you ever heard the phrase “Eat the Rainbow!”? In this article series we are going to explore what “eating the rainbow” means, the power of phytonutrients to create a fertile gut, and practical tips for how to eat the rainbow.
We are going to welcome you to the vibrant world of orange fruits and vegetables! But first let’s find out more about the science of something that makes the rainbow possible: phytonutrients.
If you want to see me talking all things orange you can join us in our Facebook group for the video!
Phytonutrients are compounds found in plants that have effects on the body.
Nutrient: nourishment that is essential for the maintenance of life and growth
There are thousands of phytonutrients, and these are pleiotropic, which means they can do more than one thing in our body. Phytonutrients can regulate inflammation, insulin sensitisation and ageing. They are powerful antioxidants that support cell signaling and messaging, epigenetic modulation of our DNA (i.e. altering which genes are expressed and when), and also interact with our gut microbiota.
What’s the Rainbow got to do With Phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients are the compounds in plants that confer colour. Using the phrase “eat the rainbow” points to the benefits of including a large variety of different coloured plants which will bring with them many different phytonutrients.
Now, if we’re going to split hairs, the reality is that plants have multiple colour pigments in them. For example, pineapple contains the phytonutrients associated with green, purple, and orange fruits and veg. By eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, we are going to be getting many different benefits. ‘Eat the rainbow’ simply helps bring our awareness to just how many different types of fruit & veg variety we’re getting.
Welcome to the World of Orange Fruits and Vegetables
The major phytonutrient group found in orange fruits and vegetables are ‘carotenoids’. Our body use some of these to make vitamin A – an essential vitamin used by virtually every cell in the body, with important roles in embryonic development.
Orange vegetables include root veg like carrots, sweet potatoes and yams, as well as veg that are technically fruits (since they have seeds): orange capsicum and pumpkin.
Orange fruits include citrus fruits such as oranges, mandarins, tangerines; stone fruits such as peaches, nectarines, mangoes, apricots; and tropical fruits like persimmons, papayas, kumquats, passion fruits and rock melon.
Orange Fruits & Vegetables and Your Fertility
A study that followed over 1000 females for 12.5 years found that around 400mcg of beta-cryptoxanthin per day from orange-coloured fruits, including oranges, peaches, mandarins, may have the potential to delay ovarian senescence (ageing) by 1.3 years (Pearce & Tremellen, 2016). This data supports that orange fruits and vegetables provide essential antioxidant support for healthy reproductive function.
In Nurses’ Health Study II (Harris et al, 2018) which had a study population of over 70,000 females, one serve of citrus fruits per day was associated with a lower risk of endometriosis risk compared to females who ate only 1 or less serving a week. Carotenoids like beta-carotene, found in citrus, increase the abundance of a species of bacteria called Faecalibacterium in rat models (Eroglu et al, 2022). Faecalibacterium is a key butyrate producing bacterial species. Butyrate has anti-inflammatory and gut-protecting properties, and has also been shown to reduce the size of endometriosis lesions in pre-clinical models (Chadchan et al., 2021).
Carotenoids deliver fertility benefits for males too. Sperm is susceptible to DNA damage from increased reactive oxygen species and inflammation. Beta-carotene, which is found in carrots, pumpkin and oranges, has been associated with improved sperm parameters (Zareba et al, 2013). In another study, Beta-carotene was found in lower concentrations in the seminal fluid of infertile men when compared to fertile men (Palan & Naz, 1996).
Orange fruits & Veg and our Gut Microbiome
The positive benefits of carotenoids are likely, in part, due to the beneficial effects on our gut microbiome. Consuming plants rich in carotenoids has been shown to correlate with increased diversity of the gut microbiota, and this has been measured in large multi-ethnic study populations (Frankenfeld et al, 2021) as well as in pregnant women (Schmidt et al. 2021). Diversity of our gut microbiome supports ourthe production of fertility nurturing compounds.
In addition to the phytonutrients in orange fruit and veg, we find prebiotic fibres including Fructooligosaccharides, Galactooligosaccharidesfructooligosaccharides, galactooligosaccharides, inulins, pectins, resistant starches… all delicious foods for our gut microbes.
How to add Orange Fruits and Vegetables into Your Day
To increase bioavailability, carotenoids from orange fruit and vegetables like to be in the presence of fat in our digestive tract.
Here are some ideas for adding orange fruits and vegetables to your diet to support your reproductive health:
Adding orange fruits and vegetables to your diet is a simple way to improve your fertility and overall health. With a little planning, you can easily incorporate these nutrient-rich foods into your everyday meals.
How are you going to add some orange fruits and vegetables to your week to support your reproductive health?
Emily Hahn, APD
Chadchan, S.B., et al., Gut microbiota-derived short-chain fatty acids protect against the progression of endometriosis. Life Sci Alliance, 2021. 4(12).
Eroglu A, Al'Abri IS, Kopec RE, Crook N, Bohn T. Carotenoids and Their Health Benefits as Derived via Their Interactions with Gut Microbiota. Adv Nutr. 2023 Mar;14(2):238-255. doi: 10.1016/j.advnut.2022.10.007. Epub 2022 Dec 16. PMID: 36775788.
Frankenfeld, Cara & Hullar, Meredith & Maskarinec, Gertraud & Monroe, Kristine & Shepherd, John & Franke, Adrian & Randolph, Timothy & Wilkens, Lynne & Boushey, Carol & Marchand, Loïc & Lim, Unhee & Lampe, Johanna. (2021). The Gut Microbiome Is Associated with Circulating Dietary Biomarkers of Fruit and Vegetable Intake in a Multiethnic Cohort. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 122. 10.1016/j.jand.2021.05.023.
H R Harris, A C Eke, J E Chavarro, S A Missmer, Fruit and vegetable consumption and risk of endometriosis, Human Reproduction, Volume 33, Issue 4, April 2018, Pages 715–727, https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dey014
Palan P, Naz R. Changes in various antioxidant levels in human seminal plasma related to immunoinfertility. Arch Androl. 1996 Mar-Apr;36(2):139-43. doi: 10.3109/01485019608987090. PMID: 8907675.
Pearce K, Tremellen K. Influence of nutrition on the decline of ovarian reserve and subsequent onset of natural menopause. Hum Fertil (Camb). 2016 Sep;19(3):173-9. doi: 10.1080/14647273.2016.1205759. Epub 2016 Jul 18. PMID: 27430906.
Schmidt KM, Haddad EN, Sugino KY, Vevang KR, Peterson LA, Koratkar R, Gross MD, Kerver JM, Comstock SS. Dietary and plasma carotenoids are positively associated with alpha diversity in the fecal microbiota of pregnant women. J Food Sci. 2021 Feb;86(2):602-613. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.15586. Epub 2021 Jan 15. PMID: 33449409; PMCID: PMC10035785.
Zareba P, Colaci DS, Afeiche M, Gaskins AJ, Jørgensen N, Mendiola J, Swan SH, Chavarro JE. Semen quality in relation to antioxidant intake in a healthy male population. Fertil Steril. 2013 Dec;100(6):1572-9. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2013.08.032. Epub 2013 Oct 2. PMID: 24094424; PMCID: PMC3843991.