Dr. Deanna Minich, MS, PhD, FACN, CNS, IFMCP, preaches: eat a rainbow. Why? There are over 700 carotenoids found in plants – all bioactive, and generally pleotropic (ie: they do more than one thing in the body). We don’t need tons of any single carotenoid, and indeed – if anyone recalls the beta-carotene smoker study from the early 2000’s, too much of a single compound could arguably be toxic. But variety is essential. And amazingly, certain groups of carotenoid colors favor certain organs. Think “orange for ovaries”; blue for brain and green for heart. Listen to my riveting conversation with Dr. Deanna Minich as she shares her own healing journey from endometriosis and how color, plant medicine and spirit converged…. carotenoid science to artist. Variety. ‘Bridging the gap between science, soul and art’ in medicine. And hear about the Scio and how you can test your food nutrient density in this cool, cutting-edge, handheld device – and loads MORE!
There are 25,000 plant phytonutrients that we are aware of and probably many, many more that we are not. Listen to this revealing podcast with the incredible Dr. Deanna Minich, and be sure to comment, give a thumbs up, and share with a friend!
In this podcast, you’ll hear:
- How Dr. Minich bridges the gap between science, soul, and art in medicine
- How Dr. Minich helped to heal herself through her art
- Why eating a rainbow, or large variety of phytonutrients is so important
- Why we should not look at nutrients in isolation, and how they work together to form a big picture
- Why you should be eating a lot of blue/purple foods
- Why we need to assess they health of the body and nutrient status before prescribing antioxidant supplements
- New technology that allows consumers to assess the phytonutrients in food with a simple scanner
- Supplement protocols and the importance of not taking them at certain times
Dr. Deanna Minich, MS, PhD, FACN, CNS, IFMCP, has more than 20 years of diverse, well-rounded experience in the fields of nutrition and functional medicine, including clinical practice, research, product formulation, writing, and education. Her doctoral (Ph.D.) research focused on essential fatty acid absorption and metabolism, and her Master of Science degree (M.S.) allowed her to explore the health benefits of the colorful, plant-based carotenoids. She has authored six books on health and wellness and over fifteen scientific publications.
Currently, she is Faculty for the Institute for Functional Medicine and the University of Western States. She has developed an online certification program for health professionals so that they can apply the color-coded 7 Systems of Full-Spectrum Health in their practice. Her lectures are heard by patients and practitioners throughout the world. Dr. Minich’s passion is teaching a whole-self approach to nourishment and bridging the gaps between science, spirituality, and art in medicine.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Hi everybody, welcome to New Frontiers in Functional Medicine, where we are interviewing the best minds in functional medicine, and today is no exception. I’m your host, Dr. Kara Fitzgerald, and with me is Dr. Deanna Minich. I’m so excited to talk to Deanna today, because she’s a brilliant mind. She’s a real thought leader in functional medicine and I’ve known her for years and years and years and have been following her most impressive career. So we’re going to do a cool deep dive into all things phytonutrients and beyond.
But let me tell you a little bit about her first if you don’t already know her. She is a health educator and an author with more than 20 years of experience in nutrition, mind body health and functional medicine. Dr. Minich holds master’s and doctorate degrees in nutrition, and has lectured extensively throughout the world on health topics, teaching patients and health professionals alike. She is a fellow of the American College of Nutrition, a certified nutrition specialist, and a certified functional medicine practitioner. Dr. Minich teaches at the Institute for Functional Medicine and for the graduate program in functional nutrition at University of Western States. Her passion is bringing forth a colorful, whole self approach to nourishment called whole detox, and bridging the gaps between science, soul, and art in medicine.
Her most recent book is called The Rainbow Diet, A Holistic Approach to Radiant Health Through Foods and Supplements, and that’s published by Conari Press, and was released this year. Visit her at drdeannaminich.com, and we will of course have her links and publications and all sorts of good stuff in the show notes.
Deanna, welcome to New Frontiers.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Hi Kara. Thanks for having me on the show.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yes. I’m thrilled to be able to spend an hour talking to you and picking your gorgeous brain. Listen, I was reading your bio before we hopped on the call, and I wanted to ask you between bridging the gap between science, soul, and art in medicine. Let me say before you answer that, if anybody hasn’t seen Deanna’s artwork, it’s exquisite. I follow you on social media, and when I see what you’re creating in your other life, it’s absolutely astonishing, bright, colorful, beautiful, really like the plants we’re going to talk about today. But talk to me about your passion on bridging these things.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Oh, you know, that question could form the basis of my whole life, really. Back when I was an undergrad, I was a nerd, maybe a little bit like you. You and me would have been in the same classes. I would go to my science classes, I was pre-med, and I was really into studying science, learning more about the body, and really having that sense of logic. But then there was this other part of me that was craving for the sense of holism. Rather than the reductionistic approach, I wanted something more literary, artistic. So I started taking courses like philosophy of language, and I took a world religions course, and I took an Emily Dickinson course. And before I knew it, I had a minor in English literature.
I felt like it was so satisfying, because it was completing some part of me. It was completing a picture. Because every time I’d go to the science classes, I loved them, but I didn’t feel like that was completely my tribe. Then I’d go over to the English classes with a lot more hippy-esque people and artistic creative types, and I felt like, this is cool, but they’re not 100% my tribe either. I felt like I was between both of them. I was the science nerd, and I was also this creative, artistic-minded person.
I think from a young age I’ve always been like this, Kara. It’s always been that I’ve seen both sides. It’s almost like the left and the right hemispheres of the brain. I really feel like for me, to get the most out of life I have to join them together. So that has been my approach to everything that I now do.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: And it’s really aesthetic. Your website, I’ve complimented you on that numerous times. There’s a really strong aesthetic to what you’re doing. When did you start creating art?
Dr. Deanna Minich: Well, that’s a whole other story. I never set out to create any art. My brother was an artist and actually went to school to study art. I know that we have an artistic streak in our family. But I think for me I was going through some emotional depression, anxiety in my late 20s, and I don’t know. One weekend I went up to the art store and I bought this big roll of paper, I bought a bunch of acrylic paints, and I came home, and I rolled out the paper. I had to have everything big and bright. I don’t know why, but it was like I didn’t want just a small drawing pad. I rolled out this paper and I spent the whole afternoon. Put my hair in a ponytail. I had sweatpants on. I put music on really loud, and I just started painting. And I painted … It was kind of funny, because it was like this amoeba. It was a huge, long… like a microorganism. It was red and yellow with a black outline. And I remember feeling so invigorated by this painting, and I put it up on my wall.
I think from there, whenever I started feeling emotional, the thing that I felt called to do … Some people go for a run, some people call a friend. I think, for me, my coping strategy was “let’s get paper out and use color.”
There was a turning point in my life. I don’t even know if you know this story about me. But I had a lot of reproductive health issues. I had endometriosis. I had a hydrosalpinx, or a blocked fallopian tube on my left side. And it was strange because here I am talking about women’s health with health professionals of all types, I’m talking about nutrition, I’m trying to heal myself with nutrition. But there was a missing piece. And I do think that turning on my creative genes changed my whole life. And it was my husband Mark who one Saturday night as I’m painting, he looks over my shoulder and he says to me, “Deanna, I think you’re painting your ovaries and your uterus over and over again.”
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Wow. Wow.
Dr. Deanna Minich: And I was. I was. I’m actually really grateful that Mark mentioned that, because once he said that, and I could see what he was saying, I was thinking to myself, oh my gosh. Maybe my body is expressing. Then I did this whole series of my uterus where I did menstruation, I did perimenopause … I did all of these phases of the uterus, not just mine, but in general, really getting into that feminine space. And every year I would go back to my gynecologist and get scanned, because we had to keep a check on that hydrosalpinx because it was filling up with fluid more and more every year.
After all this painting, I did a gallery exhibit. It was one August some years ago. And I went back in to the gynecologist shortly after that. She did this scan, and she said, “Your hydrosalpinx has completely cleared up, and your uterus looks beautiful.” Those are her exact words. “Your uterus looks beautiful.” At which point I started crying and the table, which was in the darkness, and I’m in a very uncomfortable position. She was talking, she’s like, “What did you do?” And I said, “Do you really want to know? Because …” She knew I was into nutrition, and I was taking supplements, and I was doing all these different things, I was doing all this fancy pants abdominal massage and body work. You name it, I was doing it. But when I told her about the painting, she just smiled and she said, “Keep doing what you’re doing.”
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Geez. Wow. That’s a great story. So you were doing lots of nutrition. I mean, you had to be in serious pain.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Yeah. For a while I didn’t even know I had the hydrosalpinx. It was discovered through an ultrasound. I started to have some discomfort in my left side. And I thought it was just my bowels. You know how sometimes you feel like oh, that’ll pass. But yeah, it didn’t. We have a lot of reproductive issues in my family with my aunts. It’s something I thought, okay, I’m just wired. But the idea of the fact that we can change our lives and what we’re destined to perhaps become through our changes, and I never thought that creativity would have entered in. So when you asked me, “Hey Deanna, what do you mean with science, soul, art, and medicine?” To me that was, intellectually I knew it back when I was in college, but personally, I had this revelation through my own health crises, especially in my late 20s and into my 30s.
And then I thought, I need to bring this to the world. I see color through foods, I can see that when people eat better foods they have a more colorful life. And there’s science to support this. The food and mood connection is real. You’ve got the Lancet talking about it, you’ve got New England Journal of Medicine. I just don’t know how we get this message out to a broader reach so that people realize that the best way to be happy is really to be eating these colorful foods. And I think more than anything else, people want happiness.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, that’s really beautiful. So you had adopted these massive lifestyle changes and dietary changes, but it also took manifesting it in your creative space as well that was the culmination of whole-being healing for you. Is that what I’m hearing?
Dr. Deanna Minich: Definitely. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Wow. That’s beautiful. It’s really beautiful. And your artwork is amazing, actually. I can’t wait until you make some prints or something, because I would love one of your pieces on my wall. Can people access … the listening audience, they’re going to want to go and check your artwork out. Where can they see it? Do you have anything posted, or is it just…
Dr. Deanna Minich: You know, this is crazy, but I have this thing where sometimes, like you mentioned, I’ll post it on my social media pages, and I never set out to do anything though for anybody, because I feel like once it has the confines of I’m being commissioned to make something, I don’t feel like it’s emotionally flowing. But I have posted it, and I’ve had people approach me and ask if they could buy the artwork. Currently I’ve got a number of my pieces hanging in clinics. One clinic here in Gig Harbor, Washington, and then somebody just recently bought one of my large pieces, she has it at her clinic in Texas. And then a couple of other pieces in other places. But yeah. That’s the highest goal, is to have art for the sake of healing, right, so it makes me feel really good that the spirit of whatever that came forth as is now in a clinic somewhere and helping people.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah. It’s beautiful stuff. Well listen. If you’re so inclined to let us post one on the show notes, I would love it.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Ah. All right. Sure.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: That’d be great. Okay. On the colorful conversation here let’s continue, and let’s talk about these amazing, beautiful phytonutrients that you’ve been studying so carefully and then manifesting in your artwork. You do preach eating the rainbow. What is it, are we actually successfully doing it, am I as a clinician prescribing this idea of rainbow eating? I think I do, but I think there’s a little more going on from your vantage point. So talk about it.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Yeah. I think that … First, when I give acknowledgement to some of my mentors and teachers that have turned me on to phytonutrients, and the first one is Dr. Phyllis Bowen, who was my graduate advisor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. My whole master’s thesis was on carotenoids. I was in the lab for three years measuring things like lycopene, beta carotene, lutein. There are actually hundreds, several hundreds of carotenoids, close to 700, but yet we really only hear about a handful. It’s usually the ones that I mentioned, and even the USDA nutrient database doesn’t go into the complexity of all of the different carotenoids that are in foods. But really that’s what’s making plant foods colorful as we’re looking at them outside. The leaves on trees and how they change color during the seasons. That is due to the carotenoids.
Dr. Phyllis Bowen and Dr. Clare Hasler really led the way with functional foods and really looking at carotenoids for human health, and Dr. John Erdman was part of that. So that was part of my academic life. My PhD was on essential fatty acids, so I moved away from the phytonutrients, but I was always seeing that there was such a great blend between carotenoids and fatty acids, because the carotenoids, most of them to varying degrees are fat soluble. So I was always thinking, why isn’t a dietary supplement company coming out with an essential fatty acid blend together with a mixed spectrum of carotenoids? Because to me that would be, from a scientific and medical point of view, that would be the ultimate. So that was just putting together my degree minds.
Away from school, and when I got into the working world, I began working with Jeff Bland, who we all know and love, father of functional medicine, and I worked with him at a company called Metagenics for 10 years, and I was at really … I had the honor of being in research meetings with Jeff. And really, you talk about tapping into people’s brains, I mean goodness, it was such a gift to be alongside him and even traveling and speaking with him for all those years. One of the things that he tapped into and really brought forward again for me after my graduate work was this whole idea of phytonutrients as cell signaling agents. In fact, that was the impetus for much of the research that we started doing at the company.
Jeff and I — and this could be an article I provide to you Kara — we wrote a review article on phytonutrients and metabolic syndrome in nutrition reviews in 2008. That was my first, where I got really deep. Not only was I experiencing it through the research and the things that we were doing with different phytonutrients and different pathways, but now I’m writing this review, I’m looking into the different cell signaling agents for metabolic syndrome. And what we’re seeing is that so many of these phytonutrients have pleiotropic effects. So it’s not even like you’re hammering on one pathway within the cell. There are these modulating effects. One of the things I learned from Jeff was that phytonutrients, much like they work in nature, it’s better to have many of them in smaller amounts (It also comes from Bruce Ames) than it is to hammer a pathway similar to a pharmaceutical with one agent that can either turn something on or off.
What I learned from Jeff was we need many colors, we need a spectrum, and we need a variety. That set me on this whole thing of okay, this is interesting, because it’s coinciding with my experience of color, it’s coinciding what I learned about carotenoids, and in terms of my psychosocial, psychological interests with spirituality it was all syncing up. Then I thought, this is it. This is what I’m going to champion. I am not a dietary dogma person. I am not into being a keto girl or a Paleo woman or vegan. I’ve tried all of those approaches in my own ways, and I think that they’re all valid for different people at different stages depending on what they need therapeutically. But for me, what I feel like is the underbelly of all of it, is colorful food. And if we’re not even hitting on that cylinder, it’s almost like that’s defying the principal of nature, which is complexity, diversity, and variety through these pigments that we have ubiquitously found on the planet.
Wait, did I just answer your question? I’m just realizing, you asked me about eating a rainbow, so I’m giving you some context around how that emerged.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: It’s great. So funny. I forgot what my question was. I was swept up in your story. Great, great story. I guess, 700 carotenoids, they work in concert, it takes a symphony. I’m curious, you and I were dialoguing about this earlier too. What are they doing in nature? Just give me a little background of the extraordinary action of them in plants, and then I want to talk about what they’re doing in people and the various colors that you advocate and so forth.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Yeah. Well, I can make it pretty easy: they are serving as protective agents. Protective and also modulating. They do have functional roles. One of the things that people think of when they think of carotenoids, they think oh, they’re just antioxidants. To me, antioxidants is a very 1990s way of thinking about nutrients. Yes, they surely are protective in the way of establishing redux balance within a plant. But they also have functional roles. What we’re learning — and this is to me the more exciting piece of all of it — is that not only are they protective, they’re antioxidants, they have cell signaling aspects to them down to the DNA, they have epigenetic modification roles, but here’s the cool part for me. I think the fact that they embed into certain parts of the body, of our human bodies …
Here’s one thing that many people don’t realize, and I have an interest in this because I’ve had so many fertility and reproductive issues. But there are several carotenoids found in the ovary. In fact, if we think of the corpus ludium, and we translate that into yellow body. Well, why is it yellow? Why does it become corpus albicans through the process of ovulation? Well, it’s because of the concentration of carotenoids and retinol. And many of these carotenoids, by the way, are pro vitamin A compounds. Beta carotene has great efficiency in converting to vitamin A.
Also it’s worthwhile to know that there are certain SNP’s in the body and certain genes that we need to be aware of that don’t allow for that proper conversion. Kind of diverging onto that. But there’s so much that goes into that actual reaction. But that is one of the roles, and I think that if you look at gene expression and how certain processes in the body are controlled, even ovulation is a very highly genetically controlled process, and some of that process is driven through the presence, localization of carotenoids. And beta carotene is just one.
There was a cool study showing that … I just love this. I mean, it’s how everything all comes together. Not too long ago, I’d have to find the reference now, it’s not top of mind, but it was I think in April of this year, there was a study showing that women that were eating more orange colored fruits, primarily it was citrus, had a lower risk of endometriosis. As they started to look at why is that, is it because citrus fruits tend to contain more of these provitamin A carotenoids, what they found was that there was one carotenoid that seemed to be mostly responsible. And it was called — many people don’t know this carotenoid, but it was called beta cryptoxanthin — when you start looking at beta cryptoxanthin and where do you find it, well, it’s found in so many different fruits. It’s not just citrus, but you find it in persimmons, and tangerines.
In fact, I just posted this. I just did a blog on orange foods and reproductive health. Because this is not the only study. There was another study showing that if you eat more of these orange colored fruits that you can reduce ovarian decline by a little bit more than a year when you look cumulatively.
So there’s something about these carotenoids being, back to your question, what are they doing in nature, what are they doing in our bodies. Yeah they’re protective, and that’s what we learned in the 1990s as a lot of this research was emerging. But now what we’re learning is that they have genomic roles, they have structural and functional roles, and I think it’s very interesting how the body concentrates certain plant compounds in certain places of the body. The obvious one is lutein. People know about age related macular degeneration and concentration of lutein in the back of the eye. But many people don’t realize the one about beta carotene and the 14 different carotenoids in the ovary. Or they don’t realize that when you start eating plant based, highly pigmented foods, you can change your skin color.
Usually people think oh, if I have too many carrots, the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet will turn orange. But they don’t realize that you actually, changing the dynamics of the skin, there’s also a correlation with breast tissue. I mean, any of the fatty tissues of the body, anywhere where there is fat, which is every place, you’re going to have carotenoids.
I was looking at some literature last night about lutein. Lutein is really up and coming as it relates to, usually we think of the eye. But now, what they’re showing is that there’s a correlation between lutein levels and cognition. And by assessing the pigmentation of the eye, which can be done, that macular density can be assessed through certain instruments, it correlates to some degree to the level of cognition. So if we’re thinking of cognitive decline, we really do need to be thinking about these carotenoids.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: It’s really cool. Really neat work that you’re doing. How are you prescribing eating the rainbow, then? And I would assume that you’re leaning on different carotenoids for different indications, depending on what you’re addressing.
Dr. Deanna Minich: I’d love to get to that point, because that’s the ultimate, and I do think that what’s going to happen is we’re going to have what has been referred to in the literature as phytoprofiling. When we understand the nature of all these different carotenoids and other phytonutrients, and we didn’t even talk about flavonoids or phenolic acids or sulfur containing phytonutrients. There are so many. I’m really just drilling into carotenoids right now, but there are so many. I mean, it’s projected that there are probably 25,000 different phytonutrients in nature, and I don’t even think we know that true number. I think that’s the tip of the iceberg, quite honestly.
I do think, Kara, that eventually what we’re going to be able to do is assess somebody’s phytonutrient status with a number, and maybe it’s with a scanner, because these kinds of biophotonic scanners are out there which are looking at very basic biophotonic measurements. It’s looking at carotenoid density usually in the palm of the hand. But that’s not really widespread. It would be nice to get to the point where we can personalize and say okay, you need these orange carotenoids because of this.
But for the most part, when you ask me clinically what do I do, I first have to start with the basics, and that is just to assess at a very foundational level, what colors are people eating? And that’s why I can really appreciate when we were working on the IFM diet, nutrition, and lifestyle journal, we were doing this way back some years ago, and Kristy Hughes and others were also really seeing that phytonutrients needed to be a cornerstone of all the IFM materials. So we put that into that diet, nutrition, and lifestyle journal form, so that people could do a conscious checking off of the different colors that they’re eating.
I think first and foremost is awareness. People have to know that there’s a spectrum, and on one side of the spectrum you get all the good healthy colors, then on the other side of the spectrum, I’ve also worked for a large Fortune 100 food manufacturer, and I know that companies understand the lure of colors, too. We’re not even talking about the toxic colors. Aside from naturally occurring pigments, I also need to work with clients on how do you move away from the toxic colors that you’re really keyed into in a lot of the processed foods. So sometimes it’s just awareness.
One quick exercise that I’ve done in groups, just to get people aware and tuned in to color, because so many people, they’re quite educated, they’re reading lots of blogs, they’re listening to lots of podcasts, so when they come to you, they’re expecting all this sophistication. It’s almost like … This woman I was seeing yesterday. She’s on about 15 supplements. She’s been tracking … She’s remarkable, because she has logged everything. She has been on about five different dietary patterns, and what she’s been trying to do is merge them all together. So now she’s basically eating five foods. She’s hardly eating anything, and she’s taking a bunch of supplements. And I’m like wait a minute, let’s … And she’s not having fun. When I’m seeing her, she’s dressed all in black, her hair is black, she has this pallor.
I look at everything. Just like you. Skin, nails, hair, how is a person presenting to me. And she’s kind of lackluster, and she’s got lots of pain, and she’s not having a colorful life. And I think sometimes we have to … And she’s very sophisticated in her understanding, because she’s been trying to chase after her condition for about five years. So I think, yesterday, we had a basic conversation about, okay, let’s bring back a little bit of the fun. Let’s look at the colors that you’re eating first and figure out how we can give you more variety. Because to me, what I’ve seen from the literature, and what I’ve known in experience, is that variety in food, otherwise known as dietary diversity, leads to resilience in the body. So if she’s down to five foods, that means nil resilience. And what about her microbiome? What about the ability to get all these phytonutrients and their complexity to help her with cell signaling?
I think that there’s a happy medium there. I think we do have to assess, allow people to become aware, have fun again with food, take that diet, nutrition, and lifestyle journal, or anything, just take a piece of paper, write down the foods and put color lines right through every food, and look at it. Okay, what am I having? Because it’s been estimated that … This is a number that goes back to 2009, but eight out of 10 Americans have a phytonutrient gap. And more recent literature – and I think this was put out by the CDC last year in November – that only one out of 10 Americans is meeting their fruit and vegetable requirement. That leaves nine out of 10 that are not.
And what do we count as fruits and vegetables, typically? As they go on in that paper, talking about potatoes. We need the nutrient dense foods as well, and to learn how to make those choices. And sometimes it’s a simple shift. It’s a simple, you’re at the grocery store, and it’s like, do I go after the iceberg lettuce or do I go for the spinach? Or simple things like that. And I didn’t even have that aha moment until some years ago clinically when I started asking clients to send me pictures of their food.
I had this one client who had all kinds of inflammation, all kinds of autoimmune issues, but she would have salads. I couldn’t understand, just by listening to what she was eating, how she could not be taking in anti-inflammatory, phytonutrient-dense foods. So I asked her to send me some pictures. She sent me a picture of one of her salads, and it was iceberg lettuce with a tomato that was cubed, and a carrot stick on the side. Then I got it. I was like, you know what, people are not really getting phytonutrient density. They are not making the highest choice. They don’t even realize what the higher choices would be.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Right. Right. Well, you’ve unpacked quite a bit there, Deanna. Really nice points. I think we’re all seeing in functional medicine, folks coming to us who have whittled themselves down to extremely limited diets. There can be a lot of anxiety in the journey towards expanding diet. They’re concerned that they’re going to react, and there’s a lot of rationale, and there are certainly all sorts of conversations on the web about why certain foods are bad and da da da da da da. I think that a lot of what’s said is debatable, or it needs to be more individualized. But anyway, my point regarding this woman is talking to her from the vantage point of color. Getting off of the whole idea of what’s good, what’s not, what’s reactive, what’s an intolerance, what’s a lectin, what’s antigenic, and just simply what are the colors, what pops with you when you go into the produce section of the grocery. It’s an interesting way to approach expanding the diet.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Exactly. I’m so glad that you mentioned that because sometimes, it’s like the telescope, microscope approach. We have become so in the ditch of the all the details, and she has so much fear, that when I was talking with her yesterday I was thinking, oh my gosh, she’s all dressed in black, she’s not smiling a lot. I just felt like, food is such a great way to infuse fun. So yeah, to ask about the colors, what do you like. Usually, when I’m teaching about the rainbow diet to people, I do assign a color code. You were asking me before, how do I personalize the carotenoids. I have started to more or less see each color as coinciding with certain functions. For example red, anti-inflammatory, which is really interesting, because red is usually connected to inflammation, and there are some studies to suggest that eating red-colored, plant-based foods can help to quell inflammation and support a healthy immune system.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: What is it about the red pigments, the red phytonutrients?
Dr. Deanna Minich: There are many different things, actually. We can think about a carotenoid like lycopene. There are also the anthocyanins, astoxanthin is part of the carotenoids as well. But then I also started to look into red foods as to what are some of these red foods high in? What was really interesting to me was that a number of red foods happen to be high in vitamin C. Even acerola cherry. If you go to the USDA nutrient database and you do a search for high vitamin C containing foods, you’ll come up with a list, and when I looked at the list, I was seeing this pattern of, wow, vitamin C supports the adrenals, we are focused on the immune system protection, reducing inflammation, so it’s not like it all fits neatly into a box.
But Dr. Dave Heber from UCLA years ago wrote this book called The Color Code. For some reason it was really interesting to me at the time. And I can see where he was going with certain things. And now as I look at the science of red foods and inflammation, whether it’s looking at strawberries helping with improving pain for people that have knee osteoarthritis, or tomato juice reducing systemic inflammation. I mean, this kind of stuff is out there.
So when people hear of the nature of the different colors, and then the symptoms that they have, that’s also one way to drill deeper. Of course orange with fertility and reproductive health, as I’ve already explained. I talk about yellow and the digestive tract in terms of the …
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah, go ahead. And why is that?
Dr. Deanna Minich: Yeah, in terms of, if you look at some of the citrus or more acidic foods, helping with metabolic efficiency… There are some studies on that, looking at how certain phytonutrients can help with beiging, which is the process of moving from white to brown fat, creating more heat, thermogenic activity in the body, metabolic, again, efficiency and flexibility. There’s a little bit of that. Green is very compelling as it relates to the heart, the cardiovascular system. And many other systems too. But what I see as it relates to green and the heart is … And sometimes, Kara, I will speak a little bit more story tale with people. I’ll kind of tap into my English literature side, and I’ll talk about greens. Let’s look at the greens. They’re expansive, they’re leafy, they’re reaching out. We want your blood vessels to open wide. I don’t have to use words like vasodilate or we’re going to produce more nitric oxide in order to make your blood vessels expand. I can talk about it in ways that hopefully will tickle their right hemisphere of their brain so that they will key into that in a way that is memorable.
That’s what I think of with leafy green, is I think of nitrates, I think of vitamin K, which I believe in some ways is like the next vitamin D. And it’s such an integral component to the vasculature. I think of folates. And in fact, what I tell clients oftentimes is if you could get green foods, you’re actually getting some rainbow foods. And the reason why, and I just recently put together a chart on this, where you can see all the different types of plant foods and what pigments they contain. Some pigments are pretty obvious. You look at a red bell pepper and you see red. But there are other pigments that you don’t see that are underneath that. So you could be getting lutein from a red bell pepper. And you are. But you just don’t know that. You could be getting lutein from kale, but you can’t see the yellow. But you’re actually getting that.
Usually I’m telling people that in order to hit your rainbow target, at least for me, start with green, because green has a lot of layers underneath the surface. So you’re actually not just getting that chlorophyll that sits at the top of the leaf, but you’re getting underneath that a complex array of carotenoids that are going to really be protective.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Got it. Would you say … Okay, so start with greens, and that has the most, the broadest complement of carotenoids, generally speaking, present in it, these green leafies?
Dr. Deanna Minich: Yes, from what I have seen in the literature, and putting together this chart, that’s where you get the biggest bang for your buck is to go with greens. Just recently I put out a newsletter looking at how do you get red, orange, and yellow, and when I looked at the USDA nutrient database, there were five foods that contained all of those colors. Maybe I can give you that list for your show notes. But yeah, there are these main ones. They’re asparagus, carrots, red bell peppers, red cabbage, rutabagas, and tomatoes. And look, not one of those, except for asparagus, is really green. But you get red, orange, and yellow specifically, you get a bigger bang for your nutrient buck, with these foods. You’re getting a wider complement of colors.
I’m not speaking to the actual concentration of carotenoids. I’m just talking about the diversity of them.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Uh huh. Uh huh. But it doesn’t sound like, as you stated earlier, we necessarily need to swim in a given carotenoid, but we want a complement of many.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Yes. Yes, exactly. Exactly.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: All right, listen. I have to circle back to the statement you made regarding yellow-colored foods. We’re going from white fat to brown fat.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Beiging, yes.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: All right. So prescribe me a collection of yellow foods that are going to turn this white fat.
Dr. Deanna Minich: We actually have … We have a nice blog on this. I’m going to send it to you, because actually in a conversation with Jeff Bland that he leaned over the table and he says, “You know about beiging, right?” And I said, “I know about brown fat, I know about white fat.” But this concept of beiging… and he was right, it is a newer concept. Usually people are like, “oh yeah, I know about that.” But the literature only started appearing in 2016. So we went into some of the literature on some of the warming type of the heat-producing phytonutrients that actually do that. So I’ll send it to you, because it’s still more in cell models and in animal models. This is not like human clinical trial level yet. But I think it’s still an interesting idea to be looking at these thermogenic dietary factors and how they can really shift our metabolic efficiency.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah. Well, you know, it wasn’t that long ago that we were actually putting on the map that adults can even have fat other than white.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Right.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: That’s a new concept that we were talking…
Dr. Deanna Minich: …and that only babies in the back of their necks had this brown fat. It was such an esoteric thing. I just love it that. I feel like the 21st Century is the time of dismantling…
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Dogma.
Dr. Deanna Minich: … old archaic dogma that is so … We have stopped questioning, and I think this is really good because this is a truth telling time. We’re getting into questioning everything.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yes. If we were going to form some rule about it, which we probably don’t want to, it would be that which we thought we knew, or anything that we dismiss, is probably not something to dismiss, like the so called junk DNA, or…
Dr. Deanna Minich: Right.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: … or what the appendix does, or any myriad of ideas. The microbiome, for that matter.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: I mean, it’s not that long ago that we started to uncover the fact that it was extremely relevant. Although there are scientists going way back who recognized it. But I think that they were outliers.
Dr. Deanna Minich: They were. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Okay. I want to talk a little bit more about the color. So green for heart, and then you talked about some of these … And also too, it’s diversity, but if you’re going to land somewhere with a patient, you’re going to keep it simple with people you’re working with, or for my own shopping, I’m going to lean heavier on greens.
Dr. Deanna Minich: You got it. Exactly. Exactly. And let me mention this for the more sophisticated folks out there, too. First and foremost, on a very basic level, I do have a checklist I give people. For some people I move away from having them write down everything, because they’ve already done that, and they do that well, and I don’t need to have all this vigilance with them. I’m really just looking at colors. I do have what I call a rainbow food tracker. So there’s that. And then moving more into looking at even labs, because certain labs can tell you about … And it’s unfortunate, but we don’t have very good, in my opinion, I don’t think that we have very good labs to assess what somebody’s systemic phytonutrient levels are. We just don’t. So we have to infer from whether it’s oxidative stress markers, we’re looking at levels of vitamins, minerals, and the best sometimes we can do is looking at beta carotene, which is nothing.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah. Right. That’s right. Well, I was going to ask you that. I mean, it really can’t be a surrogate marker for all the other carotenoids.
Dr. Deanna Minich: No, it’s not. It’s absolutely not. And again, we don’t know what the body is doing with beta carotene. Is it converting it to vitamin A, is it storing it somewhere. Because a lot of these carotenoids are fat soluble, they’re sequestered, so we’re not typically seeing them always in circulation. And I know that in a number of nutrition research papers, and even during my graduate work, one of the ways that we could assess compliance to a plant-based diet was to look at carotenoids in the blood. Looking at serum carotenoids was a measure of compliance. But then how do you choose which carotenoids and …
Again, I think nutrition, the reason why we’ve had such mixed opinions in nutrition is because we haven’t always embraced the complexity and the wholeness of it. Just looking at beta carotene as your mother compound and not looking at all the others, again I feel like it gets into this incomplete picture.
And then you even … You had asked me before when we got on the call about supplementation. I just want to say something quickly here about that if I can, because it reminds me of the haunting time when I was defending my thesis, when one of my professors asked me about that study, the Finnish smoker study and high doses of beta carotene, and how that led to greater rates of lung cancer. There was an increased rate of lung cancer in those people that supplemented with beta carotene.
Some people would say to me, but what about the pro-oxidant nature of these carotenoids? And I must tell you that in the literature, when I look at it, there have been studies where I do see that these carotenoids have two different personalities, depending on the environment that we’re bathing them in. So yeah, let’s just say we have a person who has a greater toxic load, they’re smoking, they’ve got heavy metal burden, they’re using personal care products with all kinds of fatty endocrine disruptors that are in those products, and now let’s just say that they’re eating poorly, they go and take a supplement filled with carotenoids. Do we think that that could really have a good outcome? I don’t think so. Because again, getting at that foundational level, the carotenoids don’t work in isolation either, and they can act as pro-oxidants under certain low-oxygen conditions, under certain levels where there’s a heightened amount of free radicals. It’s like anything else. There’s sinkholes. They have lots of carbon-carbon double bonds. So these things can just go and start to propagate more free radicals under the right conditions.
I don’t want to make people fearful of carotenoids, but it is about the whole picture, and again reframing it within that. So when I see supplements with high doses of beta carotene in isolation, it makes me nervous. I really do advocate to clinicians and to clients that it’s really important to have mixed carotenoids within a base of fat and with other nutrients. And ideally, I want to see that mixed carotenoid breakout. I want to see … Because usually, if you start looking in to that a little bit deeper, what you find is that it’s mostly going to be beta carotene and just a little bit of all the other things. So it’d be nice to find a company who has a smattering, a nice even smattering of these different carotenoids.
And you know what’s a great counterpoint to the carotenoids, are the tocotrienols. I love the … And there are eight isomers to vitamin E. We usually focus on dl-alpha-tocopherol, just like the standard supplemental form, but if we could have those eight isomers of vitamin E, which are lipophilic, combined with the carotenoids, combined with essential fatty acids, you can already see how I’m creating this awesome dietary supplement.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah, well, I get what you’re saying. In that particular study, that was a big disruptive study that everybody paused and had to analyze and chew over. Into this oxidative environment, into these smokers…
Dr. Deanna Minich: Long-term smokers. These are lifelong aged smokers. They were in their 50s and 60s.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: And they introduced just beta carotene. Although I think there was a study with E as well, but it was a really limited…
Dr. Deanna Minich: Right. And it was probably one form of vitamin E, could have even been the synthetic, who knows? It could have even been a natural form.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Well, I think the beta carotene was actually a synthetic beta carotene. But what you’re saying, just to kind of tease it out, was since antioxidants work together, since these carotenoids that are beyond antioxidants, I really appreciate how you’re challenging limiting them to that term. But if you are dealing … If these are put into an oxidative environment, and you don’t have the full symphony of nutrients, a multitude of carotenoids, and then the different vitamin E isomers, and then the fatty acids. So if you don’t have the symphony of events, this stand alone, high dose synthetic, or even natural single beta carotene could be problematic. Could be oxidative. Right? That’s the summary.
Dr. Deanna Minich: You summarized it beautifully, yeah. And I love that word that you used, symphony, because it really is in that way. They really all do balance … It’s just like when we think of glutathione synthesis and regeneration, that’s not like one compound. That’s like vitamin E, selenium, so many things working together in order to regenerate and create that. And the same thing has to happen with carotenoids. They are regenerated. They’re just like any other compound.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: I’ve often thought about quenching oxidation as playing that hot potato game, where one compound hangs onto it and it gets hot and they pass it, so this is this unpaired electron getting bopped around by multiple nutrients that are able to tone it down. But together they quench it and balance it.
Dr. Deanna Minich: That’s a really good analogy.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: A hot potato.
Dr. Deanna Minich: That’s exactly right, yeah. Hot potato. And it is kind of a hot potato with all of the reactive electrons.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Well, okay. I wanted to just circle back. We’re heading into the home stretch. But I wanted to ask you … I do want you to talk a little bit about supplements and your thoughts around supplements, because I know that you use them and you’ve written about them plenty of times. But I wanted to get an idea on some of your fabulous blue and purple foods. And this is especially because I’ve been binging on blueberries because they’re in season right now and they’re so good here.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Oh.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: And what we’re leaning on those for, and then let’s talk a little bit about supplements, and we’ll wrap up.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Okay. Okay. And I want to sneak in there a device that I think you would be really interested in, knowing your love of devices and diagnostics. So I’ll just sneak that in quickly. Okay, yeah. Blue, purple foods, what I correlate them to based on the literature is the brain cognition, memory, and mood. And if you think about it, there are not a lot of blue, purple foods. There’s a short list. When I exhausted all the different foods and made lists of these things in my rainbow diet book, green of course was the longest list. Blue, purple is the shortest. So whenever you see blue, purple, you should take it. So if you see … My happiest day is when I walk into the grocery store and I see purple broccoli. We actually have that here in the Pacific Northwest, probably in other areas too. I haven’t seen it in other areas. But whenever I see purple broccoli, I am almost screaming in the store with joy, because that’s like, I get all the colors now.
So choose purple whenever. And the science here, I mean, gosh, I’ve done whole one-hour webinars just on the science of blue, purple foods, because there’s probably, when we look at all the colors, aside from green, there’s a preponderance of blue, purple food data and all those things that I mention. And these are human clinical trials. These aren’t even just looking at cell studies or in vitro. Or I’m sorry, animal. This is looking at blueberries improving cognition in people, and not even just older people with cognitive issues. We’re even looking at how things like purple grape juice can improve cognition and mood in young people. And usually — and I’ve worked in this whole cognitive area before and did some research here — and one of the things that I learned from that experience was that it was really hard to improve somebody’s cognition who did not have impaired cognition.
But I would think that all of us feel in some way like we’d always want to feel better and think better, and that we’re not always 100%. So these studies, there have been a few, looking even at young, healthy adults, not even diseased adults, young, healthy adults showing improvements in attention, making them calmer just through purple grape juice. Blackberries are another one. So I’m pretty excited by purple, just because of …
And how does it work mechanistically? Basically what I can see is now we’re not talking about carotenoids. We’re talking about a different class of phytonutrients, and probably a bunch of other things too, of course. But primarily, I think of anthocyanins, and I think of phenolics. These tend to be high and very dense in these blue purple foods, and what these phytonutrients tend to do is they change platelet aggregation, they change circulation, they open up blood vessels similar to the nitrates, they also have, goodness, a number of different things in terms of antioxidant effects. Again, pleiotropic effects. Plants don’t work in one way. They’re doing multiple things simultaneously, which makes them even more worth us having them.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And in variety.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Yeah. I’m so glad that you’re taking that away as the key, because that’s what … I talk with my family, and my sister who has a four-year old-now, and I’m always asking, did Ellie get her rainbow smoothie. She can’t stand this about me. And she’s like, I eat tomatoes. And I’m like, Bryn, that’s not the only red food. You have to diversify within red. So even with her four year old, when she comes to see her Auntie D, we make a rainbow smoothie, and she gets to see how when she puts all the colors in there … She really loves purple, what made me think of this whole thing was purple and how, again, the color of that and kids is so important.
There is a device. I’m just going to segue into this because I know we’re going to have to wrap up soon and I do want to tell you about this, and I haven’t talked with you in a while, and I think you’d want to know about this. And I can send you a link, you can put it in your show notes.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Okay.
Dr. Deanna Minich: I’m always looking out there for devices that can assess phytonutrients. I’ve looked at the biophotonic scanner kind of a thing. The closest thing … And I kept having this vision of what if we take our smart phone and we can scan foods, or we can scan our finger and that’ll tell us our carotenoid level. I’m not the engineer to do that, so I’m just looking for groups that are working on it. And there is a device out there that has emerged that I’ve been following, and they finally came out with it. It’s called … I’m going to spell it. It’s S-C-I-O-C-O. It’s a product made by a company called consumer physics, and if you Google it, you’ll find it. They have a nice little pretty logo with all the colors.
What is it? Imagine a device that’s about the size of the palm of your hand. Bluetooth it to your iPhone or your smart phone, and there’s an app that you have to download. Right now it’s a research tool, and it’s still in development, but it’s very cool, because what it allows you to do is … They have a category for apples. They have a little scanner. So you can put three apples next to each other, and then you scan each of the apples, and most of the phytonutrients are right underneath the skin of most fruits and vegetables. So what this thing is doing is it’s using a spectro photometric scan. It’s using light to get a nanometer wavelength in order to put that into an algorithm to calculate nutrient density.
I’ve been doing all kinds of fun experiments with this. I went to my grocery store and got an organic apple, then I got two conventionally grown apples for comparison, and I blinded myself. I put them in a row and mix the up. I had my husband mix them up. Scanned them. Number one, one thing I learned, and I’ve been doing this repeatedly now, is the food that’s at your traditional grocery store, even a healthy grocery store, I won’t name names, I’m still not even getting excellent when it … Because you’ll see a rating. They have a spectrum, and it’ll give you that nutrient density, that brix amount. It’ll show you. And I’ve never had something reach excellent. So that’s first and foremost. I’ve never had an organic piece of food reach excellent. I don’t know really what they’re basing that on either. So maybe that’s just a function of their ranges.
Secondly, I don’t always find that organic food measures higher than conventional, which I’m almost afraid to say that, because it’s like how could this be. But who knows how long that organic food was sitting at the grocery store versus maybe the conventional. And we’re not measuring pesticides or insecticides or herbicides with this. This is purely looking at the nutrient density. But check it out. It’s still very emerging.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: I’m actually looking at it on the net. That’s really interesting.
Dr. Deanna Minich: It is very neat, yeah.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: And it’s measuring the concentration of the carotenoids? What’s it measuring specifically?
Dr. Deanna Minich: No, no, there’s an algorithm for it. It’s not just measuring the carotenoids. It’s measuring the sum of the various nutrients, the brix level, within the skin of the fruit or the vegetable.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Huh. Interesting.
Dr. Deanna Minich: And I haven’t looked under the hood to actually look at the whole algorithm. But they even … You can use the device to assess body fat.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah, I see that.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Yeah, and I have done that. I’ve looked at reproducibility. I’d like to actually talk with the company more and learn how they’re doing all of this. But I think at the end of the day, rather than people asking okay, what is better, grass fed beef or conventional, and having the general principles in place, but to actually scan your own food would be the best, because then you know for sure. And then maybe that at the point of purchase, when you’re in the store, if you can scan for nutrient density, wouldn’t that be the ultimate? Then grocers better … they would be more competitive to have better quality food.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Absolutely. Right.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Yeah. Anyway. That’s just an idea.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: That’s so fascinating. I’m looking at it now, and they do have a consumer edition for 299. It looks great.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Yep. That’s the one I have. That’s the one I have. Yep.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: That’s pretty cool. Thank you for that pearl. Okay. I was going to ask you about supplements. Any-
Dr. Deanna Minich: Oh yeah.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Give me … We’re over time, basically. But since I was going to ask you I want to follow through, just a snapshot of some core supplements you’re thinking about.
Dr. Deanna Minich: It’s hard, because everybody needs a personalized approach. But here’s my general rule of thumb is, start with three and rotate. Rotate supplements. I think what happens to people, for example this person I was seeing yesterday, she’s been on the same supplement since 2014. Her body has not had a break from certain supplements. I just can’t understand. I would never do that. I would want variety, versatility. That builds … If we think of allostasis, and when the body sees the signal all the time.
I actually learned this from Lyra Heller. She taught me very early on about botanicals and how there’s a threshold to where the body becomes so adaptogenic that it stops responding. So you have to move away from certain things and then let the body see them again. Usually, what I teach clinicians, too, is I really like this three weeks on, one week off principle. Then you’ve got the whole month.
And then if I think about what are the average supplements that most people need, I do think of three things. I do think of a general multivitamin mineral with phytonutrients, and I had the pleasure of being part of helping to formulate one of those. So I like that. I like to have phytonutrients in there.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: And tell me what one you were involved in. We don’t have to…
Dr. Deanna Minich: Oh, okay. It’s Phyto Multi.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Okay. Good. Yeah…
Dr. Deanna Minich: Way back when, and that was, gosh, we had all kinds of cool names for it at the time, like Medi Multi, are we going to frame it after the Mediterranean diet, which is full of phytonutrients. So anyway. Phyto Multi, which is from Metagenics, is one of my faves. I take that personally, too. The other thing I think of is some kind of fat, of course. Essential fats. But I think that we don’t … I think it’s important not to just do that blindly without measuring, because I do think it’s important to have balance through the fatty acids. So there’s that, and I think, again, bringing in different fats, depending on what our needs are, and that could even be Omega 6 fats if required. Let’s see, a third one, if I get a third one. I would say, and I would think that since gut is such a big issue for so many people, having a good multi strain diverse probiotic would be good to take. And that would definitely be one I’d be rotating every two to three weeks.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Ah, okay. Got it. Well, listen, Dr. Minich. It’s been a real pleasure to talk to you. We traveled a lot on our podcast today, from the highs of art to the nitty gritty of … From the telescope to the microscope. All over the place. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Oh, it’s been a pleasure, and sorry if I’ve talked your ear off. It’s really fun to talk about all this stuff, and you ask great questions, so thanks for having me on the show.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: You’re going to inspire lots of us, and, honestly, I think I need to get this Scioco device and…
Dr. Deanna Minich: I knew it. I should have told you about it earlier. It’s so intriguing. Yeah, play around with it and let me know what you think.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald:: I will, absolutely.
Dr. Deanna Minich: Thank you.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald:: And that wraps up another amazing conversation with a great mind in functional medicine. I am so glad that you could join me. None of this would be possible, through the years, without our generous, wonderful sponsors, including Integrative Therapeutics, Metagenics, and Biotics. These are companies that I trust, and I use with my patients, every single day. Visit them at IntegativePro.com, BioticsResearch.com, and Metagenics.com. Please tell them that I sent you and thank them for making New Frontiers in Functional Medicine possible.
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