We see a rainbow in awe of its beauty after the rain, the color variety. Can we view our plate of food in the same manner, a colorful plate of beautiful healthy eating placed before us. The Western Diet has taken over and offers a myriad of options advertising to either pleasure or health, though neither really reaches to the basics. The transformation to a lack of color in the diet has produced a result of processed foods that are not healthy for us.
So where does that beautiful color in our fruits and vegetables come from? Phytochemicals… phyto, what? Chemicals you say… aren’t chemicals bad for us? Well not these chemicals as they are not synthetic… they are the natural compounds that are what produces the colors in plant foods and are packed with nutrients and other benefits that cannot be found in other processed foods. Our diet that lacks the colors of fruits and vegetables, lacks the so beneficial phytochemicals! Overall, phytochemical research has shown that they are beneficial in prevention of disease.
So lets explore the rainbow. What phytochemicals are in each color and what foods can you eat to get these phytochemicals and their benefits.
Red. Flavonoids, lycopene, vitamin C, and folate
Lycopene is an antioxidant. Many of us have heard of antioxidants, but why are they so good for you? In simple terms, those free radicals that can cause disease or even cancer from roaming around in our bodies… antioxidants are able to work to diffuse them. We hear how drinking a glass of red wine is good for us and this is part of the reason why, the flavonoids in red wine that are beneficial because they are an antioxidant. Vitamin C is also a carotenoid and has antioxidant properties, along with boosting our immune system and reducing the risk of disease.
Sources of Rainbow Reds: Red apples, beets, red cabbage, cherries, cranberries, pink grapefruit, red grapes, red peppers, pomegranates, red potatoes, radishes, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, tomatoes, and watermelon.
TRY THIS healthy mixture, the berries for your red fruits, flaxseed for omega-3’s and ginger for digestion, antioxidant properties, among many other benefits.
Very Berry Breakfast
1 c frozen unsweetened raspberries
¾ c chilled unsweetened almond or rice milk
¼ c frozen pitted unsweetened cherries or raspberries
1½ Tbsp honey
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 tsp ground flaxseed
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
COMBINE all ingredients in blender, adding lemon juice to taste. Puree until smooth. Pour into 2 chilled glasses.
Orange and Yellow. Beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin C
Carotenoid foods which are converted into vitamin A have been shown through research to reduce cancer risk, heart disease and improve immune function. Carotenoids have been shown to have a strengthening effect on growth-regulatory signals that occur between cells, which thus helps to prevent damaged cells from developing into tumors.
Sources of Rainbow Orange and Yellows: Yellow apples, apricots, butternut squash, cantaloupe, carrots, grapefruit, lemons, mangoes, nectarines, oranges, papayas, peaches, pears, yellow peppers, persimmons, pineapple, pumpkin, rutabagas, yellow summer or winter squash, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, tangerines, yellow tomatoes, and yellow watermelon.
Green. Chlorophyll, vitamin K, carotenoids, indoles, saponins, isothiocyanates, folate, and omega-3 essential fatty acids
It is well-known that it is healthy to eat our leafy green vegetables. There are so many benefits of eating our greens, we are also seeing the green food craze or green juicing. There is good reason for this because of the many benefits of consumption of our greens. Green vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin K, folic acid, potassium, as well as carotenoids and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fatty acid for our body which means our body cannot produce it, and the Western Diet is disproportionate in the consumption of the other essential fatty acid, omega-6, as compared to omega-3. The phytochemicals in green foods have been shown to have anti-cancer properties.
Sources of Rainbow Greens: Green apples, artichokes, asparagus, avocados, green beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, green cabbage, cucumbers, green grapes, honeydew melon, kiwi, lettuce, limes, green onions, peas, green pepper, spinach, and zucchini.
Purple and Blue. Anthocyanin
Disease prevention includes that of cancer and heart disease by consumption of purple/blue fruits and vegetables which contain anthocyanin. Blueberries are known to have one of the highest antioxidant activities of all foods.
Sources of Rainbow Purple and Blues: Blackberries, blueberries, eggplant, figs, juneberries, plums, prunes, purple grapes, and raisins.
White foods have flavonoids which are also antioxidants and a type of polyphenol. They have been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and reduce the risks of heart disease and some cancers.
Sources of Rainbow Whites: Bananas, cauliflower, garlic, ginger, jicama, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potatoes, and turnips.
TRY THIS healthy substitute for mashed potatoes, the cauliflower for your white vegetable, and the olive oil for essential fatty acids.
Mashed cauliflower tastes similar to mashed potatoes but with fewer carbs. Top with chopped herbs and grated cheese if you like.
1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into small florets (about 6 to 7 cups)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
METHOD: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add cauliflower and cook until very tender, about 10 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid and then drain well and transfer cauliflower to a food processor. Add oil and reserved water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and purée until smooth. (Or, mash cauliflower with a potato masher). Season with salt and pepper and serve.
The benefits of eating a rainbow of colors is a healthy way to consume your 5-a-day plus of fruits and vegetables. There are so many benefits to eating fruits and vegetables and adding the color variety that aid in disease prevention. The different phytochemicals in the variety of colors that are created provide different actions in our body systems that can be beneficial and preventative toward disease. So have some fun and add a rainbow of color to your plate!