For many of us, this time of year is about giving things up, embracing resolutions and resorting to extreme new diets and 100% sobriety to repent for the end of last year’s party season. Approaching things from a slightly different angle, it can also be a good time to celebrate the act of adding new habits to your life – from an out-there new exercise class, to trying to cram more vegetables into your diet. In a bid to address the diet part of this equation, we’ve been looking into nutrition and have discovered, to our delight, that there are few better ways to eat your way healthy than making sure you add plenty of colour to your dinner plate. Following a rainbow diet, if you will. We’re talking plant-based, ideally organic, rather than artificially coloured foods obviously, but the beauty to this sort of healthy eating is that it’s more focussed on what to add rather than subtract from your plate. Here’s the low down on some of the colours to eat as much of as you can (allergies allowing obviously) and what good they can do for your body.
Red fruits and vegetables – including tomatoes, red peppers, strawberries, raspberries and cranberries, which contain a pigment called anthocyanin – are great for providing vitamins A and C, plus an antioxidant called lycopene. Lycopene helps to protect your skin from sun damage, reduces the risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer and has even been linked to easing the effects of asthma.
Yellow is the colour of plant pigments called cartenoids (also responsible for the red and orange tones in many fruit and vegetables). Cartenoids act as antioxidants in the human body and have strong cancer-fighting properties. Some carotenoids are converted by the body into vitamin A which helps maintain eye health and boosts your immune system too. Bananas, lemons, sweetcorn, pineapple, grapefruit and pepper are all worthy yellow items for your diet.
We’re told from the moment we can understand words that we need to eat more greens and it’s believed that just a daily portion of green can reduce your chance of a heart attack. Spinach, watercress, avocado, broccoli, green beans, peas, apples, kiwi fruit, sprouts, kale, parsley…the list is endless of healthy green plants that will give you vitamin K, iron, potassium and calcium as well as cartenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin which are both linked with eye health. Lutein in the blood can also have an antioxidant effect on cholestoral.
The purple of blackberries, blueberries, figs, plums, aubergine, red cabbage and even red wine (ok it’s the grapes), contain high levels of phytochemicals known as anthocyanins and resveratrol. Anthocyanins can protect against liver disease, reduce blood pressure and fight ageing. Resveratrol is linked to reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer as well as improving memory.
Another carotenoid, beta-carotene contained in many orange foods, is the most powerful when it comes to turning into vitamin A, which in turn helps maintain eye health, neurological function and healthy skin as well as reducing inflammation. Reach for oranges, carrots, cantaloupes, mangoes, papaya, sweet potato, pumpkin, some of which also contain beta-cryptoxanthin which is linked to maintaining the respiratory tract and easing inflammation caused by arthritis.
Potatoes (loaded with Vitamin C), onions and garlic are three staples that sneak their way easily into many of our dinners, but in the white corner mushrooms, cauliflower and leeks also offer many health-giving benefits. They contain an antibiotic and antifungal compound called Allicin which fights cell damage that can lead to serious disease. Such white foods also bring the antioxidant beta-glucans, which boost infection-busting white blood cells.
Banner image by Abel & Cole