Health on Your Table: Eating by Colors

I’m certain you remember these words: “eat your greens!” Well, you should add all the colors from the rainbow then some. While most of us have known this for some time, take a look at this pdf on Phytonutrients which was released a few months ago; it paints a dark (no pun intended) picture of North American eating habits.

It is a well-known fact that most Americans (and quite a few Europeans) do not eat enough fruits and vegetables: this report shows the color of fruits and vegetables that are -vital- important to general health and well-being.

Eight in 10 Americans are missing out on the health benefits of a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, resulting in a phytonutrient gap with potential health consequences.

There are of course many reasons why: vegetables and fruits are prohibitively expensive, not available everywhere (you’d be surprised how little is sold in rural areas) and so on. I could go on but you get the point.

I began to get interested in food colors upon reading a study in Australia, some 25 years ago, which proclaimed that eating tomatoes would mitigate prostate cancer, and could possibly negate it, in the long run. I could relate to that, having lost both great grandfather and grandfather to this dreaded cancer. Being of Mediterranean stock I love tomatoes anyway but I made it my mission to eat a tomato salad on a daily basis and even acquired a taste for Bloody Marys. My prostate wasn’t going to get the better of me, no siree. Further down the years various studies glorified red wine as a free radical fighter so my consumption of the red/purple color increased accordingly (I also ditched the Bloody Marys, there’s only so much a man can take!)

While I know that not everyone can afford fresh vegetables and fruits on a regular basis, an effort must be made to redress this imbalance: we are what we eat and we should pay more attention to our collective health by trying harder to get our hands not just on grain & legume products but also on red, yellow, purple, orange and green vegetables and fruits, whenever we can, which are loaded with vitamins and nutrients. Sure, you can argue that legumes & grains products are much cheaper and easier to procure but the object of this piece is to show that you can get both, by buying some vegetables and fruits at a reasonable price if you spend a little time looking for them.

Let’s have a look at some of the colors (vegetables and fruits are too numerous to catalogue in one post, you are welcome to add your favorite to this list, in fact, please do so):

Yellow: a dated but pertinent (2002) study at Cornell University indicates that cooking corn unleashes beneficial nutrients including carotenoids that can substantially reduce the chance of heart disease and cancer. Further, it is reported that cooking corn significantly boosts the grain’s health-giving anti-oxidant activity.

Although corn is yellow due to carotene, it has small amounts of beta-carotene. Despite conventional opinion that processing fruits and vegetables lowers their nutritional value, cooked corn retains its anti-oxidant activity despite the loss of vitamin C. Now fresh corn does not cost an arm and a leg, the last time I checked and the frozen kind is even cheaper and still packs a wallop in vitamins. Try and make it part of your diet: great in salads, stews, soups, sandwiches and even on pizza toppings. Sweet corn is thought to have greater amounts of carotene so if you see some in a supermarket or vegetable shop, go for it.

Naturally color-vibrant foods serve an important role in keeping you healthy and even reducing cancer risks. Antioxidants and phytochemicals, which are found in fruits in vegetables, have been noted to significantly reduce cancer risks. Beta carotine and lycopene can help protect cells from damage.

Red: not just tomatoes are packed with goodness. The following aren’t chopped liver either: red bell peppers, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries and red apples improve heart and brain function. The most talked about red nutrient is lycopene. Lycopene is especially high in tomato products. In fact, most studies I have read say that cooked tomato foods like tomato sauce and ketchup contain the highest amounts of lycopene. As I explained above, apart from the fact that lycopene can dramatically lower the risk of developing prostate cancer, for women, eating lycopene-rich foods regularly may also lower chances of developing lung, breast, and stomach cancers.

The tiny but mighty strawberry is packed with vitamin A and C, as well as potassium and magnesium. Potassium plays a huge cellular role in all animals, being a part of the composition, and potassium also serves as a communicator to muscle fibers. Cherries contain anthocyanins, which is the red pigment in berries, and anthocyanins have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation and also serve as potent antioxidants. Cherries have also been shown to contain high levels of melatonin. Research has shown that people who have heart attacks have low melatonin levels.

Orange: oranges, without a doubt, are the greatest source of vitamin C, but it also has vitamin B1. Try also cantaloupes because with their polyphenol antioxidants, they are known to help regulate the formation of nitric oxide, a key chemical in prevention of heart attacks while they also are a good source of vitamin C and beta carotene. We all know about carrots which contain significant amounts of vitamin C, B6, and Iron and yes, it may help with night vision!

Blue: blue is the new black, if you know what I mean. Think blueberries which are enormously rich in antioxidants and other phytochemicals, but also are a significant source of manganese, which is an essential trace mineral for all living things, and vitamin K. I know blueberries are not cheap but the frozen kind is just as effective and can be found in most supermarkets. Try make a smoothie with half blueberries and half strawberries, add a banana and you have a fantastic “power” drink at your disposal.

Purple: purple, because of the grape and eggplant seem to be my favorite color these days (you may have noticed the purple motif on this website.) Grapes have been linked to fighting cancer, heart disease, degenerative nerve disease and quite a few other ailments. Eggplants are low in energy, protein, and vitamin C, but are rich in potassium and calcium. Let’s not forget the humble plums which are high in carbohydrates, low in fat and low in calories. Plums are an excellent source of vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, vitamin C, and fiber and are free of sodium and cholesterol.

Green: even though Bush 1 hated broccoli, it is packed with Vitamin B6, B9, and an abundance of Vitamin C. Lightly steamed broccoli with a dash of olive oil would provide an amazing burst of goodness and it is not expensive. Other greens like spinach and bok choy are very high in vitamin A and vitamin C, as well as low in calories, low in fat, high in protein per calorie, high in dietary fiber, high in iron and calcium, and very high in phytochemicals such as lutein and folic acid. Spinach also carries a large amount of magnesium. Green beans, kale, zucchini, collard greens, Brussel sprouts, celery, and the mighty cabbage are also packed with valuable vitamins. And let’s not forget the kiwi fruit, cheap enough now to consume fresh, it’s loaded with vitamin C, A & E.

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