Saturday, February 18, 2012

Color Me Healthy

Have you taken a good look at the food on your plate lately?  What color is it?  Is it mostly brown, tan, and white or are you seeing colors found in the rainbow?  If your answer was the first choice, then you’re likely eating a diet consisting of highly processed foods that lack fiber and a wealth of nutrients.  On the other hand, if you’ve got bright colors on your plate in the form of fruits and vegetables, this is good news because you’re giving your cells a workout that’s going to keep them fit, healthy, and young. 

The color I’m referring to is the pigment in fruits and vegetables.  Besides the abundance of vitamins, minerals, and fiber found in vegetables and fruits, they all contain unique compounds termed phytonutrients.  More than simply antioxidants like vitamin C, phytonutrients provide information to our cells that help to regulate our genes.  What’s fascinating, is that they do this by hitting our cells with small amounts of stress that cause them to undergo an adaptive response called hormesis.  I like to think of it as keeping our cells on alert so that they don’t fall asleep on the job.

According to America’s Phytonutrient Report, 76% of Americans have a phytonutrient gap, meaning that they are getting below the median levels of fruits and vegetables determined to be prudent as set within governmental guidelines.   

Numerous studies have shown that eating the recommended 5-13 servings of fruits and vegetables everyday can reduce the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancer, and dementia.   And certain colors will target certain tissues or organs in the body.  For example:

Red phytochemicals protect the heart and circulation, lower the risk of prostate, breast, and skin cancers, protect the liver and gastrointestinal tract, and strengthen the immune system. Sources include tomatoes, watermelon, red raspberries, strawberries, cherries, beets, red beans, salmon, and trout.  

Orange foods target the immune system, vision, reduces the risk of cancer and heart attacks, as well as healthy skin, bones, and teeth.  They include carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cantaloupe, mangos apricots, oranges, lemons peaches, pineapple, and nectarines.

Yellow-green helps with vision, cell growth, and reduces the risk of cancer.  Sources include leafy green and cruciferous veggies, honeydew melon, kiwi, green peas.

Blue-Purple foods lower the risk of cancer, age related memory loss, heart attacks, high blood pressure, diabetes complications, and Alzheimer’s disease.  They include blueberries, blackberries, purple grapes, prunes, raisins, and eggplant.

White phytochemicals target high cholesterol and blood pressure, lower the risk of heart attacks and cancer.  They can be found in garlic, onions, leeks, onions, and chives.

There are numerous ways to get your phytonutrients, including the recipe below for confetti quinoa.  Just remember, as long as you’re eating from the colors of the rainbow, you can’t go wrong… 

Image courtesy of Michelle Meikleljohn

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