Foods: A Healthy Splash of Color

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

Red foods

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.

Blue foods

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

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.

Black foods.

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.

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.

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?

“Beat the Clock” Feeding Strategies

Did you ever think about how your organizational skills impacts the quality of your diet? As healthy meals do not magically appear on the dinner table, thinking through how to pull this off takes some semblance of planning. You most likely have been in the situation where you had no food to pull a meal together, and that became the excuse to dine out or order in. Poor planning when it comes to grocery shopping can lead to the same scenario. If you are constantly relying on food prepared by others, chances are pretty good that you are eating way too many calories and too much sodium, total fat, and saturated fat!  Do this too often, and your overall health will eventually decline while your waistline goes the opposite direction.

Time management is key

One key aspect to eating a healthy diet is time management. And, its imperative to apply your time management skills to your food activities. Considering the huge impact a healthy diet has on your health, it seems wise to budget a certain amount of time to being able to feed yourself and your family appropriately. While eating is basically instinctive, healthy eating needs some thoughtful planning.

Suggestions for pulling off healthier eating

Take time to plan your dinner

As dinner is typically the most problematic meal, take about 20 minutes on the weekend to map out your dinner eating strategies for the entire work week. This advance planning allows you to think through your evening commitments and plan appropriately, as you will need to keep it simple if you need to run off to school or an evening meeting. For the tough evenings, you can plan on cooking ahead or purchasing already cooked entrees such as a roasted chicken. Or, with some advance planning, you can use a slow cooker.

Have a well stocked kitchen

Having a well stocked kitchen can allow you to eat a healthy meal without any effort. There is nothing wrong with cereal, milk, and fruit for dinner or a sandwich and fruit. Such labor-free meals can easily have the same nutrients as a hot meal. Granted, a hot meal is more comforting, but nutritionally speaking it really makes little difference to your health!

Prep your produce

While most people say they like fruits and vegetables, very few people eat the 5 servings a day recommended by the National Cancer Institute. I have concluded, in part, this is due to the fact that fruits and vegetables can take some time to prepare and even eat.  A little planning and preparation for the week’s menus can cut down on the struggle to find the time during the week to get these foods into your diet.

The noted photo to the left is from an organized mother of an infant and toddler. She works full-time and still manages to feed her family an extraordinarily healthy diet. With her well thought out eating strategies for the week, she is ready to start cooking with either a slow cooker or on the spot when arriving home. All she needs to do is pull her ingredients out of the refrigerator to pull this off.

Her family will be dining on Rose Family Baked Stew and another family favorite of penne pasta with chickpeas, tomatoes and low-fat feta cheese. She will also be serving several slow cooker recipes including sweet potatoes with red beans and rosemary chicken with white beans.

Once we learn to manage our food related activities as well as we mange our work and recreational activities, we are on the way to reaping the enduring health benefits of good nutrition.

What tips can you share?