Spring into Color with Food

Eat Right with Color GraphicIt’s the Spring season and most of us are in the mood for shedding, not only layers of clothing, but looking for a change in scenery on their plates. Did you know that you can get what your body needs just by eating a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables? Nature has found a clever way to highlight the nutrients in foods: different nutrients actually impart different colors to the foods they’re in. For instance, the anthocyanins that turn blueberries blue can also keep your mind sharp, the lycopene that turns watermelon and tomatoes red may also help protect against prostate and breast cancers, and the beta carotene that makes carrots and sweet potatoes orange can help keep your bones strong, your eyes healthy and boost your immune system.

Unfortunately, most Americans are challenged when it comes to getting enough fruits & vegetables in their diets. A 2010 report by the CDC found that only 26% of Americans are getting the recommended three servings a day of vegetables. In the fruit department, 33% eat the recommended two servings daily.

Vibrantly colored ingredients do more than make your meal look pretty. The more naturally colorful your meal is, the more likely it is to have an abundance of health promoting benefits, (i.e. reducing pain, preventing or reversing some chronic health conditions like some forms of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity). You’ll also look and feel your best.
Fruits and vegetables contain compounds that reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, some cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes and obesity. Most of us don’t get enough fruits, veggies or whole grains, so adding a couple of extra servings a day will go a long way to making us all healthier.

Common food colors and their attributes
Green foods get their color from chlorophyll, a natural blood purifier that supports the liver and kidneys in the elimination of toxins. Among many other nutrients, green foods also contain high amounts of Vitamin K, which is necessary for blood clotting and building strong bones. Examples of green foods include kale, broccoli, spinach, green beans, and celery.

Orange foods are high in beta-carotene, which our bodies transform into Vitamin A and antioxidants. These nutrients aid in the prevention of cancer, heart disease, and infections by supporting an important part of the immune system: our mucous membranes. Beta-carotene also helps maintain healthy eyes and skin. Examples of orange foods include carrots, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, apricots and oranges.

Red foods are rich in the phytonutrients lycopene and anthocyanin, which greatly benefits the circulatory system by helping build healthy cell walls. This improves blood pressure, organ function, and circulation. Red foods also offer sun protection from harmful UV damage. Examples of red foods include tomatoes, watermelon, beets, and red bell peppers.

White natural foods have a wide range of beneficial nutrients, such as anthoxanthins, sulfur, and quercetin. These substances boost the immune system because they are anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory, which helps the body fight infections. Examples of white foods include garlic, onions, cauliflower, and daikon radish.

Purple foods contain the most antioxidants of all the colors and therefore contribute to overall health, disease prevention, and longevity. They also raise HDL (the “good”) cholesterol, and help maintain a healthy brain. Examples of purple/blue foods include blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, and purple cabbage.

Most people would not think of this color in the traditional sense;
Tan/Brown foods are rich in antioxidants and fiber. These foods reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Examples, mushrooms, whole grains (oats, quinoa), legumes (black beans), and CHOCOLATE!

When planning your meals, start by choosing foods from the Four Food Groups, Fruits, Vegetables, Whole Grains and Legumes. You definitely want to get some type of green on your plate everyday. It can be kale, collards, spinach, lettuce varieties, & Bok Choy, to name a few. With plant foods, there are so many choices. I would say that you want to focus on the foods that are in season. You get a greater health benefit, you support local agriculture and it costs less so you can eat more budget friendly meals. When shopping, go for whole foods and grains in their most natural state, with minimal processing. Because we’re not eating enough of these healthful foods, the goal is to take another look at our shopping carts and make another trip to the produce section. I like to say a term called Crowding Out. Look at your cart, take out one item and replace it with a new food that pushes you beyond your comfort zone.

To give you some guidance when choosing food, here’s my Eat Right with Color chart that categorizes food by color and the benefit. Get the document here.

Eat Right with Color Guide


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