The vast spectrum of natural colour in fresh produce is astounding! Colour also happens to be a very useful indicator (and constant reminder) of the many magical health benefits of fresh plant-based foods.The deep greens, vibrant reds, deep purples, bright oranges & yellows that we see in common and widely available foods provide far more than just “a rainbow” of colourful visual stimulation.
Eat a rainbow every day!
Whilst there’s no one particular food or nutrient that gives us everything we need, likewise, no *one* colour provides all the available nutritional power either. Every colour found in food, whether it’s green, red, purple, blue, yellow, and even white, reveals something nutritionally quite unique. By choosing a variety of colour in the diet, preferably at each meal, we can all be sure of enjoying a rich and varied spectrum of nutrients. For those who find nutritional science intimidating, or worse a “turn-off”, eating by the colours is not only more appealing, it’s easy as ABC. Often the best advice to give is simply to “eat the rainbow” every day!
The grandeur of green!
In the nutritional sense, green is worth becoming a favourite colour! It signifies energy, vibrancy and cleansing! Green veggies, and fruits too, such as watercress, spinach, chard, kale, courgettes, celery, dark seaweeds, rich green lettuces, kiwi fruits, gooseberries, cucumbers & asparagus possess some of the most crucial nutrients for health, energy production, detoxification, rejuvenation and longevity.
The dark leafy greens such as watercress, lettuce, spinach, rocket etc. are particularly crucial foods to try and get into the diet on a daily basis. These are rich in chlorophyll (similar in chemical structure to iron), many B vitamins, minerals and fibre for an overall healthy body and blood system. Leafy greens are very alkalising too, helping to buffer the typically acidic western diet that commonly underpins most states of disease.
Lutein is a particular plant antioxidant found in kale, chard, and romaine lettuce helps to protect the eyes & ensure our long-term visual health. Broccoli is a well-loved and widely available vegetable, and actually a great source of vitamin C (as are Brussels sprouts!). Vitamin C is an effective antioxidant that reduces disease risk, boosts the immune system, improves iron absorption, and promotes wound healing too.
Green vegetables in general are excellent sources of vitamin A, and vitamin K too (known to be vitally important in building bone density), as well as many of the B vitamins (such as B6 and folic acid), potassium, carotenoids and even omega-3 fatty acids. Green vegetables are also what you might term “low calorie, high nutrient” foods, so they can help significantly with weight loss too. Try replacing your starchy carbs (potatoes, bread and pasta) with a selection of green vegetables, and you might find losing weight a whole lot easier!
Greens and green vegetables are also valuable protein sources, especially when eaten in the raw state. “Raw” means that the food enzymes stay intact, and enzymes are made of amino acids – yes protein! Any well-informed and healthy vegetarian will include plenty of green vegetables in their diet everyday, and vegans have to rely fairly heavily on these foods for calcium, iron and magnesium too.
Say YES to yellow & orange…
The words that spring to mind when orange or yellow foods come into view are heart, protection, and immunity. Vitamin C is certainly visible with yellow and orange foods. In this department, we have grapefruit, cantaloupe melon, persimmons or Sharon fruits, summer and winter squashes, yellow peppers and carrots; all these are wonderful immune system boosters.
Fresh oranges as we know are rich in vitamin C, but so too are lemons, grapefruits, yellow peppers, and persimmons too. Grapefruits that have lovely pink and red hues also contain lycopene, a star “antioxidant” of the red food group. Cantaloupe melons incidentally, are not only deliciously sweet fruits, they’re rich super-rich in polyphenol antioxidants. These polyphenols are known to help regulate the formation of nitric oxide, a key chemical, or gas, produced in many cells of the body from the amino acid arginine. Sufficient production of nitric oxide prevents heart attacks, and ensures good blood circulation and blood flow.
Melons are also great sources of vitamin C and beta-carotene, or pro-vitamin A that is stored in the liver, and later converted to Vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for healthy eyes and vision, as well as being a key “immune” supportive nutrient. Carrots also contain significant amounts of Vitamin C, as well as B6, and even iron. Let’s not forget squash, as these great winter and summer vegetables are excellent sources of the mineral potassium (important for regulating blood pressure), beta carotene, and many other minerals.
So how about peppers? They’re a colourful bunch!
- Sweet peppers from green, to yellow, to orange and red, beautifully illustrate how nutrient concentrations change with the colours.
- Yellow peppers typically contain more of the lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids than green peppers.
- Red peppers will usually have more lycopene and astaxanthin, two other important carotenoids.
- Orange peppers will deliver more alpha, beta and gamma-carotene
- Purple peppers will provide more anthocyanin flavonoids – most notably found in blueberries, blackberries and the new “super” Acai berry. Since all of these nutrients can make important contributions to your health, make sure you get into the habit of mixing and matching your use of sweet peppers in salads – go raw, stir-fry, steam-fry or chargrill.
What’s in white?
Just because a food appears to have no colour, doesn’t necessarily mean “no nutrition”! Vibrant colour certainly isn’t an exclusive indicator of phytochemical content. Whilst some phytochemical pigments do give amazing hues, others are in fact, colourless. Colourless pigments are found in foods such as cabbage, mushrooms, and onion. Most of the pigments we find in these, and other foods are collectively called flavonoids. Flavonoids are powerful food chemicals, and counteract the free-radical formation, and resultant damage to the body’s cells. When free-radical damage is not controlled, it can cause significant cellular changes, which can lead to cancer or other disease states.
So, we’ve covered the greens, yellows and oranges! What about the others? Read part two of our look into rainbow diets available now.