Eating by color

Bright fruits, vegetables can spruce up diet

Bright fruits, vegetables can spruce up diet

August 06, 2007|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

The means to a healthier you might be found in the colors on your plate.

"I don't want to dis any particular food, but if you look down at your plate, and you've got brown meat, a white potato - though potatoes do have vitamins - you've got to think, 'How can I make this better?'" said Beverly Clevidence, research leader at the Food Components and Health Lab, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsvillle, Md.

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture say there is promising evidence that suggests color-producing chemicals found in fruits and vegetables might help prevent inflammation and oxidation in the body - conditions often linked to cancer and heart disease, among other ailments.

"For years we thought about diseases individually, but now we're starting to think that inflammation and oxidation are linked to a lot of these," Clevidence said.


Clues that colorful foods had some health benefits likely came in the 1990s when researchers found that lycopene, the chemical that makes tomatoes red, could be linked to a reduction in cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Now, scientists note that several other foods in a wide range of colors, have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, Clevidence said. There are even diet books, touting "color diets," with recipes, color charts and food guides, she said.

While Clevidence said the concept of "color dieting" was better thought of as a rule of thumb rather than a hard and fast rule, she said eating a variety of colorful foods has its benefits.

"You get to eat foods that taste good - strawberries, cherries, blueberries," Clevidence said.

Certain foods such as onion, garlic and cauliflower shouldn't be ruled out because they lack pigment, Clevidence said. Cauliflower has similar health properties to broccoli, its colorful cousin.

Georgia "Virginia" Rodgers, 79, of Hagerstown, said she only recently became familiar with the benefits of eating colorful foods.

Rodgers, a member of a national weight-loss support group called Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS), said she's lost 35 pounds over the course of 26 years and now weighs 133 pounds.

But she said she lost that weight by counting calories and "eating the right foods."

"We didn't talk about eating colorful foods then," Rodgers said.

Rodgers said the topic was recently brought up at one of her weekly TOPS meetings. She is a member of chapter No. 308. She said about 15 people attend the weekly meetings regularly.

Pat Saunders, a member of the No. 77 TOPS chapter in Hagerstown, said she knows about 300 dieters, but none of the ones she spoke with had said they had heard of color dieting.

"They just thought it meant a bag of M&M's," Saunders said.

As it is, Americans on average aren't eating enough fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Larry Cohen, a medical doctor and epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is based in Atlanta, was a lead author of the CDC's Morbidity and Morality Weekly Report in March.

The report found that two-thirds of Americans eat fruit once a day if at all.

Only a third of Americans eat fruit at least twice a day; slightly less than a third eat vegetables at least three times a day, Cohen said.

Cohen said even fewer Americans are meeting the 2005 U.S. dietary guidelines of three to five servings of fruit, or four to eight servings of vegetables daily.

"If we measured for those guidelines, the percentages would be even less," Cohen said.

Clevidence said she hopes more consumers buy into the idea of eating colorful foods.

"There are some people who are getting their vegetable servings from french fries," Clevidence said.

Color-coding your food

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture say there is promising evidence that suggests color-producing chemicals found in fruits and vegetables might help prevent inflammation and oxidation in the body - conditions often linked to cancer and heart disease. Most of these pigments are either fat-soluble (absorbed in fat) or water-soluble (absorbed in water).

Fat-soluble pigments are found in the following foods:

· Tomatoes, watermelon - lycopene, linked to the reduction of cancer and cardiovascular disease

· Carrots - beta-carotene, believed to reduce coronary heart disease

· Corn - lutein, believed to promote eye health

· Dark, leafy greens - Lutien and beta-carotene is found in dark, leafy vegetables, but the presence of chlorophyl (which makes them green) obscures the presence of those pigments.

Anthocyanins, water-soluble pigments, come in many colors and can be found in the following foods:

· Strawberries and cherries. Strawberry extracts have been shown to prevent aging in rats; cherries have been shown to reduce inflammation for arthritis sufferers.

· Blueberies - shown to improve memory, balance and coordination in rats

· Grapes and plums -have been shown to have antioxidant properties

Don't ignore white

Garlic and white onions might lack colorful pigments, but they also contain protective phytonutrients (plant-based chemicals that create pigments). Cauliflower is another great, pigmentless food.

- Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Research Service at

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