Find longevity at the end of the rainbow! The new dietary guidelines from the American Dietetic Association encourage us to color our plate with a rainbow of foods.
Interestingly, these guidelines correspond to an age-old Eastern philosophy that one should eat foods of every color each day. Eastern wisdom believes that health and longevity depend on a balance of the five elemental energies; the elements are represented by five colors: red, orange/yellow, green, white and blue/purple.
Both Western nutritional science and Eastern wisdom agree: When you eat all the colors, you are working far more disease-combating nutrients and vitamins into your meal. Eat your way to longevity by consuming the five-color spectrum every day in each food category – vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes, nuts and grains.
The pigments that impart the red coloring to many foods are known as anthocyanins, flavonoid compounds that fight free radicals and prevent oxidative damage to cells. The antioxidant lycopene found in pink grapefruits, tomatoes and watermelons has been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Add red to your meals by tossing a handful of raspberries, strawberries, goji berries or pomegranate seeds into your cereal, slicing roasted beets or red bell pepper into a salad, or adding cooked red adzuki or kidney beans to a rice dish. Go nuts with pecans, and get red-hued health gains with buckwheat and amaranth grains.
Orange and Yellow
Thanks to the carotenoid pigments in such orange vegetables as sweet potatoes and pumpkins, we can brush free radicals away, improving eyesight and bolstering the immune system. Beta-carotene, which is the precursor to vitamin A, can help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease, while the vitamin C and folate in citrus fruits can peel away free radicals and boost immunity. So, go ahead, enjoy some creamy, roasted butternut squash or a juicy tangerine. Orange-yellow colors in other food categories include almonds, cashews, corn, millet, chickpeas and butter beans.
The green pigment in plants, called chlorophyll, increases blood-cell production, and improves oxygenation, detoxification and circulation. Greens also contain lutein, a phytochemical that helps reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. These are but a few examples of the myriad of greens that benefit your health. To color your health green, enjoy broccoli, kale, spinach, bok choy and other leafy greens. Other green cuisine choices include kiwifruit, avocados, apples, grapes, lime, asparagus, lentils, mung beans, pistachios and pumpkin seeds.
Blue, Purple and Dark
Like red berries, blueberries and blackberries receive their coloring from phytonutrient flavonoids. The phytonutrients found in blue and purple foods keep blood vessels healthy, benefiting your cardiovascular system and lowering your risk of heart disease. Flavonoids also help reverse short-term memory loss that comes with aging and may help prevent cancer. Boost your dark-food intake with raisins, dried plums, black mushrooms, purple cabbage, blueberries, blackberries, purple potatoes and eggplant. Don’t forget your nuts, grains and beans: flaxseeds, walnuts, chestnuts, black beans, navy beans, quinoa, black wild rice and seaweed, too.
Whether you prefer a crispy daikon radish, pine nuts or a luscious sweet pear, the anthoxanthins in white foods can help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. If you love the crunch and spice of a white onion, then you will be happy to know that these tearjerkers are chockfull of the flavonoid quercetin, known for its anti-inflammatory properties and cardiovascular health benefits. Other white foods to help ward off disease include garlic, potatoes, turnips, mushrooms and cauliflower. Soy beans, white beans, rice and barley are other white food choices to work into your meals.