(KRON) — Back in the days of early medicine, the prescription for healing was herbs and specific plants. Today, that practice is still supported by current research in treating, preventing, and even reversing disease.

Here’s why plants have a powerful influence on your health.

The Role Plants Play in Good Health

Plants contain naturally occurring compounds, known as phytochemicals (“phyto” means plant in Greek).

Phytochemicals, a.k.a. phytonutrients, are thought to be largely responsible for the protective health benefits found in plant-based foods.

These biochemicals in plants impart the plant’s color, flavor, smell, and texture. In the anti-aging world, color matters. As a general rule, the deeper the color, the more powerful they are at combatting disease.

Phytochemicals are classified into various groups and within each group are many subgroups — all which can be very confusing.

In fact, according to nutrition researchers as UC Davis, there are more than 10,000 different phytochemicals found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, and seeds. Researchers speculate that many more are yet to be discovered.

The Health Benefits of Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals aren’t essential for you to stay alive like vitamins and minerals, but the research strongly suggests consuming foods rich in these plant nutrients provides health benefits.

New experimental studies continue to emerge that demonstrate the human health effects of phytochemicals.

According to research studies, phytochemicals may:

  • Slow the aging process.
    • Reduce chronic systemic inflammation.
    • Reduce risk of lifestyle diseases (e.g., cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes).
    • Provide protection against neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s)
    • Stimulate the immune system.

The Power of Color

Thanks to colorful phytochemicals, you can create your own dyes. Easter eggs can be dyed naturally with plants — no synthetic dyes produced from petroleum. This activity makes a great family learning lesson on phytochemicals and why it’s importance to eat a variety of plants.

#1 – Purple

1 cup chopped Purple cabbage + 1/4 cup purple grape juice + 3/4 cup water

#2 – Orange

1 cup yellow onion skins + 1 cup water

#3 – Blue

1/2 cup blueberries + 1 cup water

#4 – Yellow

1-2 tablespoons turmeric powder + 1 cup boiling water

#5 – Pink

2 tea bags of hibiscus tea (hibiscus leaves, blackberries leaves) + 1 tablespoon beet root powder

#6 – Green

1-2 tablespoons matcha (a powder made of ground green tea leaves) + 1 cup boiling water

The “Recipe” for Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs

  1. Add dye matter and water to a saucepan. The exception: turmeric and matcha. For turmeric and matcha, just add boiling water to the powders and mix well.
  • Bring to the dye matter to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15 to 30 minutes. (Simmering longer will intensify the color.)
  • Strain the dye.
  • Add 1 tablespoon vinegar to the strained dye.
  • Completely submerge and soak the egg in the dye. Soak longer for a more concentrated color.

The Takeaway:  Put eating plants into practice by including a lot of colorful fruits, vegetables, tea, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds in your daily eating plan. Phytochemicals have the potential to treat, prevent, and even reverse many chronic lifestyle diseases

Karen Owoc, ACSM-CEP, ACSM/ACS-CET, is a clinical exercise physiologist in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation at the Palo Alto VA Medical Center, health educator, and longevity author of “Athletes in Aprons: The Nutrition Playbook to Break 100”. karenowoc.com