One of the best things you can do for your body is to make healthier food choices. Research has shown that filling up on fruits and vegetables can reduce risk of chronic diseases including heart disease, obesity and even some forms of cancer. At the same time, choosing whole grains, low fat dairy and lean proteins helps your body get vital nutrients such as calcium, fiber, and vitamins it needs to stay or become strong and healthy. But did you know the color of food makes a difference?
You’ve probably heard that choosing different colored foods at each meal promotes variety. This is important not only because certain foods are better sources of a particular nutrient than others, but also because foods work together to deliver nutrients they can’t provide alone. For example, foods rich in vitamin C such as tomatoes, bell peppers or oranges help with absorption of iron, which is found in whole grains and leafy greens.
Meals containing mostly hues of white, tan or brown tend to include more starches and fried foods and not as many vegetables or fruits. They are also more likely to be higher in added sugars, sodium and calories. Having a variety of colors on your plate suggests more food groups are represented and in turn that the meal is better balanced. Read on to learn more about the colors to include at every meal and how each color could impact your health.
Red, Orange, Blue and Violet: These colors are produced by molecules called anthocyanins and anthocyanidids and are commonly found in berries, eggplant, red and purple grapes, red cabbage, red wine and sweet cherries. Anthocyanins belong t
o a class of substances called flavonoids that are thought to help enhance memory and prevent age-related decline in mental function. Research has also suggested that foods rich in these pigments may be associated with lower risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Bright Yellow, Red, Green and Orange: Pigments called carotenoids give foods bright red, yellow, orange and green coloring. Some carotenoids are converted to retinol (vitamin A) which has important roles in proper immune function, growth and development and maintaining eye health. Carotenoids also function as an antioxidant in the body, protecting cells from damage. Sources of dietary carotenoids include cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, kale and squash.
Green: The green coloring of plants is produced by chlorophyll. This pigment is very common in cruciferous vegetables and is found in plants such as broccoli, spinach, kale, brussel sprouts and cabbage. In addition to being good sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber, cruciferous vegetables produce compounds (indoles and isothiocyanates) during cooking, chewing and digestion that are thought to inhibit the development of cancer cells. As if that isn’t enough, they may also help to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease through their abilities to decrease inflammation.
Colorless: Flavonoids are actually mostly colorless but they are an important nutrient for good health. There are more than 5,000 flavonoids that have been grouped into six categories: flavanols (found in grapes, apples, onions and cranberries); flavones (celery, lettuce and brussel sprouts); flavanones (citrus fruits); flavan-3-ols (white wine, chocolate, teas, and, legumes); isoflavones (soybeans and soy products); and anthocyanodins (red and purple fruits and vegetables). These compounds help to prevent cell damage, decrease inflammation and play a role in regulating blood sugar.
Using color as a guide is a great way to ensure your family is meeting nutrition recommendations for a healthy lifestyle. Not only does color add excitement to an otherwise boring plate, it also provides useful information about the health benefits of your favorite foods. Choosing a variety of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables can be a simple way to balance your plate, make a meal more interesting, and improve your health overall.