Color Your Plate

Compare the colors in a fast food meal of hamburger and fries with one of roasted spaghetti squash and marinara sauce.  The blandness of the colors in the fast food are reflective of its nutritional value, as is the vibrancy of the veggie meal.  (Note:  there are some white and tan foods that are nutritious, and we’ll discuss these later).  The bright colors of fruits and vegetables indicate the presence of powerful antioxidants that protect you from damage caused by free radicals.  Free radicals are produced in your body as a result of normal cell metabolism as well as from external sources like air pollution and toxins.  If too many free radicals are allowed to build up in your body, they lead to the development of chronic illness like heart disease and cancer, and antioxidants help keep the free radical levels in balance.

RED and PINK – these foods contain the antioxidant lycopene, which is in the carotenoid family.  Lycopene helps protect against prostate cancer as well as lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke.  It also appears to offer some protection against sun damage to the skin. Foods rich in lycopene include:

  • Tomatoes – fresh, canned, pureed and sauces
  • Watermelon
  • Pink Grapefruit
  • Red Peppers

ORANGE and YELLOW – These foods get their color from beta carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in the body.  Vitamin A is important for good vision, it helps support the function of white blood cells for a healthy immune system, and it promotes strong bones and joints.  It also helps regulate cell growth and division which plays a role in the development of cancer.  Foods to include in your diet are:

  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Oranges, tangerines, and lemons
  • Pumpkin, butternut squash and acorn squash
  • Cantaloupe
  • Mango

GREEN – Dark green vegetables are nutrition powerhouses,  Cruciferous options like broccoli and bok choy are great sources of vitamins A, C and K, as well as folate and fiber.  They also contain phytochemicals like sulforaphane and glucosinates that help reduce the risk of cancer and have been show to help stop the growth of cancer cells.  Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale are great sources of vitamins A, E, K and D as well as iron, potassium, and manganese.  Vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting, Vitamin E is an antioxidant, and folate helps tissues grow and cells work, and it also helps form red blood cells to prevent anemia.  Be sure to eat some of the following:

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Lettuce, kale, spinach, arugula, and Swiss chard

BLUE and PURPLE – full of anthocyanins from the antioxidant class of flavonoids.  They have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-cancer properties.  They also promote heart and brain function.  Eat foods like:

  • Blueberries, blackberries and cherries
  • Red grapes and red wine
  • Eggplant
  • Plums
  • Purple cabbage
  • Dark chocolate – contains flavanols, a type of flavonoid

WHITE – as we mentioned previously, there are some naturally white (not processed) plant foods that are actually good for you and they derive their white or pale-yellow color from anthoxanthins.  These phytochemicals help reduce stroke risk, promote heart health,  prevent cancer, and reduce inflammation.  Some of them, like onions and garlic also contain allicin and quercetin which are linked with cancer prevention, brain, and heart health.  Allicin and quercetin also have anti-viral properties.  The following white foods should be included in your diet:

  • Bananas
  • Cauliflower
  • Garlic and onions
  • Potatoes
  • Jicama
  • Mushrooms
  • Turnips and Parsnips

Color your plate with the rainbow of naturally occurring colors in plant foods.  The more variety of color that you eat, the more likely you are to obtain the wide range of nutritional benefits and antioxidant protection they offer.

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