Thursday, March 1, 2007

Eat by Color

Red and orange, green and blue, shiny yellow, purple too, all the colors that we know…should be on your plate!

Nearly all fruits and vegetables are low in fat and contain healthy components called phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are natural plant compounds that provide a variety of health benefits, such as protecting against heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses. These phytochemicals are what give produce their vibrant colors. The goal then, is to consume our “5 a Day” while varying the types and colors of fruits and vegetables.

According to Dr. David Heber, author of “What Color is Your Diet?”, there are seven color categories of produce, each providing their own array of phytochemicals and health benefits.

Red Group
Examples: tomatoes, watermelon, red grapes, radishes, pomegranates, and pink grapefruit.

Specific phytochemicals in red fruits and vegetables such as lycopene and anthocyanins are important because they help rid the body of free radicals that damage genes. Research indicates that lycopene protects against prostate cancer, as well as heart and lung disease. In addition, anthocyanins help to reduce the effect of sun damage on the skin from free radicals as well as assist in circulatory issues. There is also evidence that these phytochemicals help with memory function, urinary tract health, heart health, and by lowering the risk of certain cancers.

Yellow/Green Group
Examples: spinach, collard greens, yellow corn, peas, avocado, and honeydew.

This group is a great source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Both of these components are believed to reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

Orange Group
Examples: carrots, mangoes, apricots, cantaloupe, pumpkin, acorn squash, and sweet potatoes.

The orange fruits and vegetables contain carotenoids and bioflavonoids that may help prevent cancer by repairing DNA. The beta-carotene in this group, which converts to vitamin A, is also good for night vision.

Orange/Yellow Group
Includes oranges, pineapple, peaches, papaya, and nectarines.

This group contains beta cryptoxanthin, a strong antioxidant that protects against free radicals that can damage your cells and DNA. Research has shown that beta-cryptoxanthin is protective against lung and colon cancer. In addition, it may reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. This group is also high in vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps protect cells.

Red/Purple Group
Examples: figs, beets, eggplant, purple grapes, cranberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, red apples, and red wine.

Red/purple fruits and vegetables contain health promoting phytochemicals such as anthocyanins and phenolics, which protect against heart disease and blood clots. These phytochemicals may also delay the aging of cells in the body and help in healthy aging. In addition, there is some evidence they may help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and help with memory function. Of this group, blueberries have the highest antioxidant activity because of a large anthocyanin concentration.

Green Group
Examples: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, and kale.

This group contains the chemicals sulforaphane and isocyanate, and they also contain indoles. Each of these substances helps to protect against cancer by inhibiting the action of carcinogens.

White/Green Group
Examples: leeks, scallions, garlic, onions, celery, pears, white wine, cauliflower, endive, green grapes, and chives.

White fruits and vegetables contain a variety of phytochemicals such as allicin, which is found not only in garlic and onions but in an array of brown and tan foods as well. This particular phytochemical has some antibiotic properties, similar to anti-bacterials and anti-fungals, in addition to having antitumor properties. Other foods in this group also contain quercetin and kaempferol. Quercetin is a powerful antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties. It may also be protective against prostate cancer. Kaempferol is also an antioxidant and may prevent arteriosclerosis. In addition, quercetin and kaempferol work synergistically to reduce cell proliferation of cancer cells.

A colorful variety of fruits and vegetables, healthfully prepared can make a significant contribution to a diet that will assist in promoting good health. In addition, focusing on fruits and vegetables will help you to fill up on low-calorie foods, thus helping to lower your overall caloric intake. So, consider this a challenge, and start to count the number of colorful fruits and veggies that you get each day!

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