Coloring is not just for kindergarteners, but chefs as well. Foods can range in color from white to black, and even adults should think about how to utilize color when planning healthy meals. The color of food is determined, in part, by the types of chemicals found naturally in foods. These compounds are called phytochemicals, which is Greek for plant chemicals. What scientists have come to believe is that these natural plant chemicals serve to protect plants from disease. If we eat the plant, we also get some sort of health benefit from these same plant chemicals. In fact, these phytochemicals are emerging in scientific research as key players in regulating health.
The roles of phytochemicals are wide ranging- from protecting our genetic material to fighting inflammation, aging, and disease. In addition to imparting color to our food, they often confer the specific smell a food emits upon cooking, such as that odor emitted from cooked broccoli or cauliflower.
Some colorful foods and their phytochemicals
Lycopene colors foods red. All tomato based foods, pink grapefruit, guava, and watermelon contain lycopene. As our bodies absorb lycopene best when it is heated and cooked with some oil, Italian cuisine is wonderful for boosting our lycopene load. Lycopene it thought to confer health benefits by acting as an anti-oxidant.
Dark red to blue foods contain anthocyanin. Cherries, blueberries, red grapes, raspberries, red cabbage, and cranberries are sources of anthocyanin. In addition to being anti-oxidants, anthocyanins appear to reduce cholesterol production to help keep our arteries clear.
Orange foods are rich in beta-carotene. Beta-carotene rich foods include cantaloupe, acorn squash, carrots, pumpkin, guava, mango, sweet potatoes, and apricots. Beta-carotene rich foods are converted to vitamin A once eaten and serve as dietary anti-oxidants.
Polyphenols help color foods black. Foods rich in polyphenols include prunes, dates, blackberries, figs, raisins, and black beans. Black foods are particularly high in anti-oxidants!
White foods like garlic, scallions, onions, and leeks contain the phytochemical allicin. It provides the odor emitted when garlic is cut. Allicin may protect against certain cancers as well as decrease blood pressure.
Green foods contain chlorophyll which may mask other colors such as the orange color of beta-carotene. It is safe to say that green colored foods contain a wide array of many types phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals.
Coloring your diet with a wide spectrum of colors is an easy path to a great quality diet.
What colors did you eat today?