Part I of this topic examined balancing the portions on a plate, with less meat and more vegetables. Part II focuses on the second rule of thumb for creating a “good plate,” colors. In short, the more colorful the plate is, typically, the mure nutrient-dense. Different plant pigments corollate to a wide variety of useful micronutrients, notably vitamins and anti-oxidants.
A plate that is mostly white, tan and brown probably isn’t very well balanced (it also resembles mud and probably isn’t very pretty). Fat is brown. People with blood sugar issues are taught to recognize and stay away from things that are white (like refined sugar, white rice, mashed potatoes, and so forth), and the ADA (the American DiaBETES Association) and the ADA (the American DiaTETIC Association) are pretty much in agreement that the anti-white thing is good advice for all of us. A plate that, like a good painting, has a nice balance and range of color composition offers a varied, probably very nutritious combination of vitamins and other useful micronutrients (of course Skittles® come in so many different bright colors that their slogan is “taste the rainbow” and Trix® cereal, which is a “part” of a good breakfast (the other parts being juice and fruit and milk and so forth), come in grapity purple and orange orange, so that’s not always true).
A colorful plate is a healthy plate,. Consider some health benefits of the entire rainbow:
Reds: Tomatoes, beets, watermelon and pink grapefuit are a few examples of fruits and vegetables with a pigment called “lycopene,” shown to help reduce risk of cancers, notably prostate cancer, while the anthocyanins in strawberries, raspberries, and red cabbage is highly anti-oxidant, instrumental in cell-damage protection and heart health.
Yellows: Carrots, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, many squashes and gourds including crookneck and butterneck squash and pumpkins: all these fruits and vegetables and more are colored with carotenoids. Beta-carotene is, as many of us know, converted to vitamin A, helping with healthy mucous membranes and healthy eyes, reducing cancer risk, improving immune function, all sorts of great things. Citrus fruits, like oranges and lemons, don’t supply a lot of vitamin A, but they are great sources for Vitamin C and folate (a B vitamin that helps prevent birth defects)
Greens: Chlorophyll, the daddy of all plant pigments, is often associated with another plant chemical, lutein, notably present in large quantities in dark leafy greens like spinach and collards (and “real” lettuces like green leaf lettuce, romaine, and Kale– iceberg lettuce may be a little bit less expensive and more readily available, but it’s almost white and mostly water). Lutein works with zeaxanthin (in corn, red peppers, egg yolks, and oranges) to help reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration– in short, blindness. Also, many cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage contain “indoles,” which are anti-oxidant and cancer-fighting. Also, deep green-colored vegetables are an excellent source of folate.
Blue and purple fruits and vegetables, like blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, figs, and raisins, have anthocyanins (we discussed these above) which are powerfully anti-oxidant, reducing risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
White vegetables and fruits often contain allicin, which may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and may help reduce risk of stomach cancer and heart disease. (the non-pigment pigments in them are called “anthoxanthins.”) Some “white group” members, like bananas and potatoes, are also great sources of potassium.
So, as you can see, a colorful plate is a healthy plate, generally speaking. Oh– those little colorful yellow and red and purple peppers, by the way, are called “capsicum” … they are wonderfully healthy, and have lots of the substance from which they get their name (or vice-versa), capsaicin. You may have heard of it– it’s this marvelously thermogenic (heat-inducing) chemical that cause your fat-burning machine to go into overdrive, basically. Capsaicin, incidentally, also exists in smaller quantities in bell peppers and banana peppers and so forth. Ever wonder why Mexicans don’t get sick from the water, but tourists do? Mexicans eat hot peppers every day. Capsaicin, as it turns out, has amazing anti-bacterial properties. We’ll talk later about all sorts of things you can grow yourself at home for nearly free that have all sorts of great medicinal benefits as well as making your dinner more interesting.
“But fresh produce is expensive, and you have to buy the organic stuff to keep from poisoning yourself with pesticides!” Two words: Joni Mitchell. The middle-aged generation in America now grew up with DDT and such, which was much more harmful than today’s chemicals, and lived. There are plenty of low-cost frozen vegetables available in local markets, and right here in Charlotte there’s one of the finest farmer’s markets ever. Moreover, the climate and growing season is such in most of the country, and particularly in Metrolina, that a lot of vegetables can be grown right in your yard, Blackberries, in fact, grow wild here and don’t even require cultivating! The typical American diet includes way too few fruits and vegetables, and SC scores even lower than the national average, which is odd, because farming is one of the things the Carolinas are most famous for. A one-pound bag of perfectly tasty, healthy “stir-fry vegetables” (flash frozen), is available locally in “broccoli,” “asparagus,” and “sugar snap” varieties for $1.65 (priced 2/5/11). Canned vegetables aren’t really recommended, for the most part, due to the huge amounts of salt that are used to “preserve” them, and the liquid they’re packed in, into which most of the nutrients leach out and get poured down the sink. But flash-frozen vegetables are crisp, tasty, and very nearly as nutritious as fresh. And inexpensive.
So, it probably isn’t perfect. But it’s a whole lot better than a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and large fries.