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  • Writer's pictureSusie Csorsz Brown

Eating a rainbow

Did you know that Ma nature has color-coded nutrition for you? Wasn’t that nice of her? She wants to help you and your family to eat as healthfully as possible, and wants it to be as easy as … well, as easy as knowing your colors.

If you can get away from FD&C colors, you begin to realize that there is something beautiful about the color combinations you can find in the foods that have not been processed or come from a can. Veggies from a can are not always that attractive; anyone who remembers the olive drab of the green beans you were served at school lunch way back when can attest to how unattractive beans can be. But a fresh green bean is vibrantly and vividly green. So is a freshly peeled kiwi. Carrots are an amazingly vivid orange, as is that butternut squash. What about the purple beets or deep blue blueberries? These colorations aren’t just accidents; each of these colors is the sign of a chemical in that food, a GOOD chemical that can do things as powerful as fight cancer or other diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and more. Before I get further, though, let me teach you a word. This is a big word that will sound really impressive: phyto-nutrient: ‘phyto’ meaning plants and you know what nutrient means. These chemicals are all naturally occurring nutrients that come from plants, or phyto-nutrients.

So, seriously. Color fights diseases. Every naturally occurring color in fruits and veggies does something different. Friends, please don’t be weirded out by the heavily-laden chemical verbage I am about to throw at you. Focus more on what they do, not on what they are called.

Purple and blues (like in berries, beets, eggplant, radishes and purple potatoes) comes from anthocyanin which may inhibit tumor growth, boost cognitive function, and fight heart disease. Foods of this color also contain lutein, resveratol, vitamin C, fiber, flavonoids, ellagic acid, and quercetin. Similar to the previous nutrients, these nutrients support retinal health, lower LDL cholesterol, boost immune system activity, support healthy digestion, improve calcium and other mineral absorption, fight inflammation, and fight cancer.

Orange-yellow (carrots, mango, winter squash, sweet potatoes) comes from beta-carotene which the body converts into vitamin A, promoting good vision and healthy skin. Fruits and veggies of this color also contain copious amounts of potassium, flavonoids, and vitamin C which work to reduce the risk of prostate cancer, lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, promote collagen formation and healthy joints, fight harmful free radicals, encourage alkaline balance, and work with magnesium and calcium to build healthy bones.

Red (tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and watermelon) comes from lycopene ellagic acids, and quercetin which is linked to reducing risk for prostate, stomach, and lung cancers. These phyto-nutrients also work to reduce LDL (read: bad) cholesterol levels, reduce free-radicals and support joint tissue in arthritis cases.

Green foods (from zucchini, leafy greens, basil and other herbs) are a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, which support retinal health and vision and may prevent stroke. Foods of this color also contain chlorophyll, fiber, calcium, folate, vitamin C, calcium, and Beta-carotene. The nutrients found in these vegetables reduce cancer risks, lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels, normalize digestion time, fight harmful free-radicals, and boost immune system activity.

And while I know technically white is not a color but the absence of all color, we can’t forget our white powerhouses such as bananas, cauliflower, pears and potatoes and other white fruits and veggies. These foods contain nutrients such as beta-glucans, EGCG, SDG, and lignans that provide powerful immune boosting activity. These nutrients also activate natural killer B and T cells, reduce the risk of colon, breast, and prostate cancers, and balance hormone levels, reducing the risk of hormone-related cancers.

Want to know another nutritional secret? Don’t peel your colors off: often, the nutrients in fruits and veggies lie directly under the peel. Besides, the skin is a great tasting source of fiber, and really who doesn’t need more fiber in their diet?

Try this week to make your dinner plates a rainbow. Try to have at least 3 colors on your plate. Your eye will be happy, your tummy will be happy, and your body will enjoy the power that goes along with eating a rainbow.

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