Most of us have been told at one point in time to eat our greens. But research now shows that eating blue, red, yellow, orange and purple foods also is important for your health. Consuming a diet heavy in a rainbow of colors will ensure that your body is receiving a wide range of nutrients like fiber, folate, potassium and vitamins A and C. In addition to these nutrients, fruits and vegetables are packed with disease-fighting chemicals known as phytochemicals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research shows that eating these nutrients may strengthen the immune system and decrease the risk for certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Phytochemicals in food work together so it is important to select foods from different color groups.
Red fruits and vegetables are colored by natural plant pigments called lycopene and anthocyanins. The lycopene in tomatoes, red and pink grapefruits, watermelon, papaya and guava may help reduce the risk of some cancers (particularly prostate cancer) and heart disease. Lycopene is better absorbed in foods containing cooked tomatoes, such as spaghetti sauce, and a little bit of fat rather than in raw tomatoes. At your next meal, make sure to double up on your spaghetti or pizza sauce.
Anthocyanins are water soluble pigments which are found in strawberries, raspberries, red grapes and other fruits and vegetables, which act as powerful antioxidants that protect cells from damage. Antioxidants are linked with keeping our hearts healthy, too. Try adding red beets, cherries, cranberries, red peppers and radishes to your diet. Together, lycopene and anthocyanins help to maintain memory function and fight off infections, as well.
Orange foods are a must have in your daily diet. Orange vegetables and fruits like sweet potatoes, mangos, carrots and apricots contain beta carotene. This carotenoid is a natural antioxidant that is being studied for its role in enhancing our immune systems, as well as contributing to healthy eyes. Carotenoids also may be good for your heart. Studies have shown that men with high cholesterol who ate plenty of vegetables high in carotenoids had a lower chance of heart attack and death than their counterparts who did not consume vegetables. Bright yellows have many of the same benefits as the orange group. Strive to add yellows such as pineapple, yellow apples, yellow peppers and corn to your diet to pack in more essential nutrients and carotenoids. The deeper the color, the more carotenoids the food has.
Introducing a wide range of colors at meals and snacks is a quick way to make sure you are eating a balanced diet. It also can make shopping and cooking more fun because the colors of your food can promote creativity in the kitchen. Children love color, too, and you can encourage them to eat a greater variety of foods by having them look for all the colors on their plates.
Whether you are looking for inspiration or to improve your health, cooking with a lot of color is a great way to create delicious meals while gaining many health benefits.
Whitney Roberts is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator for the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center.