Ohh how we love the rainbow diet. Why? Because it is so simple and so delicious.
As it just so happens, a fruit or vegetable’s color can tell you a lot about which beneficial micronutrients it will deliver. The color of the skin is determined by the specific plant compounds it contains, and those in the same color family will deliver similar micronutrients and health benefits. Your job is to add a bit of each color to your daily dietary color palette so that you can obtain an ideal range of micronutrients everyday and paint your way to optimal health.
Red foods are made red by two antioxidants—lycopene and anthocyanin. Lycopene is associated with reduced incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration and is said to lower bad cholesterol and enhance immunity. Anthocyanin has been shown to possibly relieve pain, depression and anxiety.
Tomatoes: Lycopene in tomatoes can help curb depression and reduce inflammation. Iron and vitamin B6 found in tomatoes help create mood-regulating neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. The magnesium is also a mild mood tranquilizer that regulates energy levels and reduces stress.
Hot peppers*: Capsaicin could help keep your appetite in check by moderating levels of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin, according to a study in the British Journal of Nutrition. Try adding some hot peppers to your breakfast to help you stick to your diet. Also, the capsaicin will cause your body to release endorphins, which will naturally keep you calm.
Strawberries*: Strawberries are a great source of both ellagic acid and vitamin C, which help protect skin from environmental damage. The acid helps your skin retain moisture, which vitamin C is important for your collagen. The berries contain salicyclic acid, which is a natural tooth whitener.
Orange foods have high levels of beta-carotene, which has cancer-fighting, anti-viral and eyesight-improving qualities.
Squash: Best during the latter part of summer and early autumn, squash is full of carotenoids. Research shows that those with diets high in carotenoids are 43 percent less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration—a common eye disorder, which can lead to blindness. 36 percent were less likely to die of a heart attack.
Apricots: An apricot a day may be able to keep the pounds at bay. The carotenoids in apricots improve the body’s ability to detoxify the liver, which enhances fat.
Yellow foods have high levels of beta-cryptoxanthin, a brain-booster.
Yellow Plums: You may not have ever noticed yellow plums, but if you ever spot them in the store in the peak of summer—grab them! Studies show yellow plums contain chlorogenic acid, a natural substance proven to fight the oxidative stress that prematurely ages skin. Yellow plums also contain high levels of pro-vitamin A, which helps increase skin-cell production to ward off fine lines—and vitamin C, which helps build collagen.
Yellow Peppers*: When you think of vitamin C, you think oranges, right? Well, the truth is, yellow bell peppers have nearly five and a half times more (341 mg vs. 63 mg) vitamin C content per serving than a serving of oranges. When Arizona State University looked at people who supplemented vitamin C, they found that they burned more fat than those who were deficient. What most people don’t know is that your body needs vitamin C to synthesize carnitine, a compound that exerts a substantial antioxidant action and helps convert fat into energy.
Green foods get their color from chlorophyll, which is antibacterial and stimulates the growth and maintenance of lean muscle tissue. Green foods are also the richest source of the dynamic duo zeaxanthin and lutein, which research shows reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Avocados: The high level of essential fatty acids in avocados are naturally found in skin cells and help you keep y our skin smooth and supple. When it’s applied topically, avocado can stimulate collagen and elastic production. Mix a little avocado with sour cream (which contains lactic acid to help exfoliate dead skin) and apply to your face for about 10 minutes before washing with water.
Green Leafy Vegetables*: That’s right, an eleven-year study of 1,360 Australian adults found that those who ate the most leafy green vegetables, like kale, chard, and bok choy, reduced their risk of getting squamous cell carcinoma (the second most common type of skin cancer) by 54 percent compared with those who ate the least. Green leafy vegetables are rich in carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) and a wide variety of other micronutrients that can help guard against UV-induced free-radical damage and may help block tumor development in skin exposed to UV radiation.
Purples and Blues
The purple and blue colors in produces come from flavonoids called anthocyanins. These are powerful antioxidants that protect cells from damage and may reduce cancer and stroke risks, improve memory and improve longevity.
Plums/Prunes: Prunes (dried plums) are loaded with antioxidants and contain boron, potassium and vitamin K—all essential bone-building micronutrients. A study by Florida State University suggests that prunes help increase bone density in post-menopausal women. The high fiber content also helped reduce hunger.
Blueberries*: A handful of blueberries helps give your body a quick energy kick by moderating insulin and blood sugar. The antioxidants in berries increase the blood flow to the brain, improving neuron function.
Grapes*: Grapes contain proanthocyanidins, which help stabilize collagen and maintain elastin. These compounds have been shown to repair and strengthen veins and shrink varicose veins by 41 percent in only two months. Grape phenolics have been researched for their anti-obesity effect.
Fruits and veggies with whitish flesh (garlic, onions, coconut, bananas, mushrooms) can help reduce the risk of stroke by 52 percent. A recent 10-year study concluded that the white-fleshed foods are rich in the flavonoid quercetin and were better than all other colored produce in reducing the risk of stroke.
Onions: Onions are full of bone-building compounds which may inhibit the activity of cells responsible for breaking down bones. The quercetin and kaempferol may increase bone density and inulin may increase calcium absorption by 33 percent. Serving onions in a cream sauce may go a long way in preventing osteoporosis.
Mushrooms: Recent studies show crimini mushrooms have been shown to have more antioxidant benefits than some of the exotic mushrooms. The caps are an excellent source of selenium, zinc and manganese—all of which are critical antioxidant nutrients. Crimini mushrooms may also contain some unusual antioxidant molecules called ergothioneine that specifically help to prevent oxidative damage to DNA, which also provides great cardiovascular benefits.