Consuming a Rainbow of Nutrients Brings Good Health: Adding more color to your meal delivers more nutrition as well, according to Dr. Linda Khoshaba of Integrative Health
Mar 02, 2013 07:26AM
● By Linda Khoshaba, NMD
There is a saying that when we eat any meal, it should resemble the colors of a rainbow. The color of fruits or vegetables can dramatically influence our health, because each fruit or vegetable has a unique composition and function. Having a color variety in our meal can help us take in the necessary vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals and help to maintain a balanced diet.
Although we can supplement with a specific vitamin or mineral, eating our fruits and vegetables together creates a synergistic effect and yields the maximum amount of health benefits. Here is a breakdown of the rainbow spectrum of foods and the benefits we can achieve by adding them to our meals at least once a day.
Dark Green Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are rich sources of sulphur-containing compounds known as glucosinolates. Their taste is often described as pungent, bitter or spicy. These types of vegetables include kale, bok choy, spinach, arugula and broccoli, and are especially important in helping detoxify your body. Detoxification is a process the liver undergoes to help us neutralize and get rid of the chemical wastes and byproducts we produce each day.
There are two main phases of detoxification. Phase one consists of processing chemicals to make them ready for phase two, in which we excrete the toxins from our body. These types of vegetables contain sulphoraphane, an indirect antioxidant that acts to induce phase two detoxification. Other benefits of sulphoraphane include tumor inhibition and systemic anti-inflammatory effects.
Vegetables in this color spectrum contain phytochemicals known as lutein and indoles. Lutein, part of the carotenoid family, is a powerful antioxidant that is essential for vision. Indole has been known for its powerful anti-carcinogenic effects. Look for foods such as avocados, artichokes, green cabbage, celery, lettuce and peas. Common garden herbs such as thyme, basil, sage and mint are also full of phytochemicals. These herbs not only add flavor and freshen the taste of our meal, they can be used as a substitute for salt, sugar and fat in any meal.
Lycopene and anthocyaninis are the two most common constituents found in red-colored fruits and vegetables. Lycopenes are carotenoids known for antioxidant and anti-proliferative effects. Tomatoes, guava, apricots and watermelon are well known for their lycopene content. The bioavailabity of lycopene is highest in cooked and pureed tomatoes, and this is a common dietary recommendation given to men with prostate conditions. Anthrocyanins are flavonoids that are known for the pigment found in foods such as berries, pomegranates, red onions and kidney beans. These pigments boost overall health and exert antioxidant effects throughout the entire body.
When we see the color orange, it is no doubt that the first vitamin we think about is either a sour citrus flavor or vitamin C. But those are not the only things orange should have a reputation for. In addition, orange-colored fruits and vegetables have a number of other benefits, ranging from heart integrity to immune health. Beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A, has strong antiviral properties and increases immune function by increasing the number of T lymphocytes. Satisfy a sweet craving by making a quick and easy fruit salad with fruits such as grapefruit, peaches, papaya, tangerines, mangos and cantaloupe.
You will see some overlap of similar actions between the yellow and orange foods. Yellow is a unique color that represents joy and happiness that perhaps may be related to the way these fruits and vegetables taste. Lemons, bananas, golden delicious apples, yellow peppers, corn, pineapples and squash are excellent for reducing inflammation, stimulating wound healing and contain properties that strengthen teeth and bones.
Adding blue/purple fruits or vegetables to a daily meal may seem challenging, but it can be as simple as throwing some blueberries, blackberries, plums or raisins into a breakfast. This color group is specifically known for its lutein, zeaxanthin, quercetin and resveratrol components. Zeaxanthin has been studied for its effects on vision and how it helps prevent age-related macular degeneration. Quercetin, another type of flavonoid, not only is anti-inflammatory, it also has some blood-pressure-lowering effects.
There are many benefits to eating a wide variety of foods, and their colors represent a small clue to the role of that particular food.
Dr. Linda Khoshaba received a doctorate from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine. Her main areas of focus include women's health, pediatric medicine, diabetes management and prolotherapy. For more information, visit MyIntegrativeHealth.com.