Why eating colorful foods is good for you

Eating all the colors of the rainbow can help improve brain health and lower the risk of heart disease.
most of us are faced with the same choice several times a day: what to eat. In addition to price, affordability and preferences, we will often use the safety of a food to help us make a decision.

But when we zoom out to inspect our overall diet, how do we know we’re getting the nutrients we need?

It is widely believed by researchers that we need a varied diet, and that one way to do this is to eat all the colors of the rainbow. But is color the best guide to getting all the nutrients we need?

The proof can be in the Mediterranean diet, which contains lots of fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, and is often considered the healthiest diet by scientists.

It is no coincidence that the diet is made up of different colors, explains Francesco Sofi, associate professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Florence.

“Eating a traditional Mediterranean diet means you are consuming different nutrients and phytonutrients,” he says. Phytonutrients are small chemical compounds produced by plants that help us digest larger nutrients and also play a role in removing toxins from our body.

“However, the diet does not always contain all the colors – it depends on the season, as followers of the diet eat seasonally and locally, and grow their own fruits and vegetables.”

Really, he adds, the colors are no different from other vegetable-based diets, like the vegetarian diet. There are also other reasons why the Mediterranean diet is among the healthiest. Mediterranean people traditionally boil, rather than fry, their vegetables, which preserves nutrients, says Sofi.

But the abundance of fruits and vegetables in the diet cannot be ignored. The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables on our brains and hearts are among the most consistent findings in the science of nutrition, says Deanna Minich, functional nutritionist and assistant professor at the University of the Western States. in Portland, Oregon.

Eating lots of colors can reduce the risk of missing all essential nutrients.

“If we are missing a color of the rainbow, we may be missing a function of that food,” says Minich.

This is because plant foods contain thousands of natural compounds called phytonutrients, including carotenoids and flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory effects. And different colored plants have different advantages.

Blue and purple foods, including blueberries, are high in anthocyanin, a plant pigment, which has been linked to lowering the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Flavones, which give foods color yellow, can reduce the risk of heart disease.

“Some plant pigments travel to and reside in certain parts of the body,” says Minich. “For example, lutein is found in a variety of yellow and green foods and travels to the macula at the back of the eye, where it can help reduce the risk of macular degeneration.”

“If we are missing a color from the rainbow, maybe we are missing a function of that food” – Deanna Minich
Some studies show that flavonoids can improve brain health, by blocking neurotoxicity in the brain, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

After following the diets of 50,000 people for more than 20 years, Tian-shin Yeh, epidemiology researcher at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, found that those who eat more foods rich in flavonoids, especially oranges, peppers, celery, and grapefruit, have lower levels of cognitive decline and dementia.

While there is currently no cure for dementia and dementia later in life, says Yeh, eating more foods rich in flavonoids may help reduce the risk. However, the participants who saw the most benefit were those who had consistently followed a flavonoid-rich diet for 20 years.

It’s never too late to incorporate these foods into your diet and benefit from the flavonoids, Yeh says.

Eating a colorful diet, says Yeh, can also help people avoid the possible side effects of eating too much of a food.

“The food is very complex. For example, research has shown that orange juice is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline, but excessive consumption is associated with type 2 diabetes, ”she says. Although this is due to its sugar content, not flavonoids.

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But following a rainbow diet can also be complex, says Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation.

“It could be very difficult to get every color every day – you could tie yourself in knots,” she says.

We also need to eat other food groups to get all the macronutrients we need, like protein, she says.

However, Minich maintains that the Rainbow Diet is not limited to fruits and vegetables, but includes other natural foods, such as herbs, spices, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and even tea. She also considers white foods to be part of the Rainbow Diet, including tofu, which contains many different isoflavones, which have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers, as well as cognitive decline.

Eating a variety of colors could mean that we are consuming more fruits and vegetables in general. One study found that getting people to eat a colorful meal increased their intake of healthy foods.

“If you eat the same fruit, you’ll be full, but if you have a plate of different fruits and vegetables in different colors, you’ll probably want to eat longer,” says Rochelle Embling, a doctoral student at Swansea University, who does not participated in the study.

“This effect is specific to the food consumed, so after a meal, dessert is still desirable because it has different sensory characteristics,” Embling explains.

But eating more colorful foods can also increase the risk of overeating unhealthy foods. Embling discovered that we are more likely to eat more pizza when it has a lot of different colored toppings. She recommends eating a variety of colors for fruits and vegetables, but opting for a smaller color palette for more forgiving foods. It should also be noted that artificial colors in foods, such as cakes and candies, unfortunately do not count for a healthy and varied diet.

There are other ways, besides color, to get a range of nutrients and phytonutrients from your diet, researchers say, like paying attention to taste. One study found that participants who ate bitter, strong-tasting vegetables for 12 weeks had lower blood pressure and blood sugar at the end, due to their fiber content and the range of phytonutrients they contain.

The study states: “Root vegetables and cabbages are rich sources of antioxidants such as flavonoids, carotenoids and other bioactive phytochemicals; ingestion of these combined in whole foods may allow synergistic action, thus providing improved health effects. ”

In other words, they can be healthier than the sum of their parts.

“Food colors are very important to our diet, as are flavors, especially [those of] bitter foods, like arugula, kale, celery root and green tea,” says Minich, who does did not participate in the study but agrees with its findings and points out the benefits of these compounds which react with each other to further benefit our health.

Another option is to consider what parts of the plant you eat, says Yeh.

“Turnips and rutabagas have more similar nutritional values ​​because they are both the root, while the nutritional values ​​of cabbage and rutabagas are not so similar as one is the leaf and the other is the part. root of the plant. ”

However, Yeh concedes, “Considering colors can be the easiest way to guide consumers.”

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