You get off work and run through the drive through to grab some dinner. Ordering a number 3 with fries and a drink, and you know what, make that a large. You pay and pull up to the second window where you receive your quickly prepared meal in a brown bag. You get home and settle down on the couch, pulling out the items of your dinner: a brown burger on a beige bun, with tan fries and a dark cola. Realizing how bland your meal looks you decide to remedy the situation with a big blob of ketchup. There, a little color.
This is probably a familiar scene for most people. And with today’s crazy fast world it’s understandable to not always have time to think about eating healthy. Our culture is all about convenience and cost. But, could there actually be something to adding more color to our diet? I mean you did have lettuce and tomato on your burger, but is that enough?
According to the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), “phytochemicals may act as antioxidants, protect and regenerate essential nutrients, and/or work to deactivate cancer-causing substances.” What is a phytochemical you ask? They naturally occur in plants and can be indicated by what color the fruit or vegetable is. For example blueberries blue color can help tell us what kinds of nutrients are in it. Studies are still being done to determine what all kinds of phytochemicals may be in certain foods and what all health benefits they may have. Many have been known to be heart healthy and/or linked to cancer reducing properties. Here are a few of the benefits of different colors:
Examples of these are blueberries, blackberries, prunes, plums, and eggplants. These fruits get their different hues mainly from their anthocyanin content. Anthocyanin is an antioxidant that has been shown to be heart healthy, aiding healthy blood pressure and preventing clot formation. It may also help in lowering your risk for cancer.
You probably are familiar (and maybe avoided eating) your greens, such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. A phytochemical called isothiocyanates is present in broccoli and other green vegetables may have anticancer properties. They are also great sources of things like vitamin K, potassium, carotenoids and more.
A slight deviation of the green category; examples of this group are avocados, kiwifruits, and spinach. Those in this category are often high in lutein, which is good for eye health and preventing macular degeneration.
Tomatoes, cranberries, pink grapefruit, and watermelon all belong to this category. Lycopene is a phytochemical associated with this group. It is strong antioxidant that has been shown to reduce the risk of some cancer including prostate cancer, as well as being beneficial for heart health. Although some nutrients such as vitamin C found in red fruits and vegetables can be abated through cooking, lycopene is often amplified through cooking.
A few examples of this category are carrots, mangos, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins. Phytochemicals found in this group are often good for eyesight such as beta-carotene, which can be converted into vitamin A, a vital nutrient for vision. Vitamin A also has beneficial properties for skin and bone health as well as immune boosting.
All of these different categories have distinct nutrients and beneficial properties. It may be tempting to just increase the amount of consumption of one category to benefit an area of concern. But, nutrition research manager for the PBH, Kathy Hoy, EdD, RD, says, “eating a variety of foods helps ensure the intake of an assortment of nutrients and other healthful substances in food, such as phytochemicals, noting that color can be a helpful guide for consumers. Nutrients and phytochemicals appear to work synergistically, so maintaining a varied, colorful diet with healthful whole foods is a pragmatic approach to optimal nutrition.” Balance is key. Getting a good mix of different colorful produce is very crucial. So get to your local market today and add some color to your diet.