Making Your Diet Bloom with Color
Is your diet making you look and feel older? The old adage “You are what you eat” is not that far from the truth. Food choices affect your health in ways that you may not realize. Most people understand that there is a connection between fatty foods and heart disease or sugar and diabetes, but what you may not know is food affects everything from your brain to your bones. If you want to look and feel younger, you need to learn how to dress up your plate with more color.
Some Aging Basics
The body is made up of molecules, and each one has a specific number of electrons. Ideally, electrons come in pairs, but it doesn’t always happen that way in nature. Some molecules have an uneven number of electrons. In the scientific community, we call that an unstable molecule.
Unstable molecules are at the heart of many diseases and the aging process. It all goes back to those unpaired electrons. They don’t just sit there feeling lonely. They actively look for partners. This leads to oxidative stress and free radical damage – two key elements of aging and illness.
Studies have shown that free radical damage and oxidative stress contribute to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. They also make skin lose its elasticity and cause bones to become brittle.
Why Are Colorful Foods Important?
What do green leafy vegetables and brightly colored foods bring to the table? What makes these foods so attractive is also what makes them healthier. The pigments, or phytochemicals, that give blueberries that deep purple hue or carrots that sassy orange are full of antioxidants. An antioxidant can connect with that one lonely electron, stabilize the molecule and reduce the damage. Marrying an electron to a neutral antioxidant means it won’t connect with a toxin or a carcinogen.
The Right Antioxidant for the Job
Antioxidants, in general, are good for your body, but some work better than others with regard to specific health concerns. Remember when your mother used to tell you to eat your carrots because they were good for your eyes? She was right. The beta-carotene that is responsible for the orange color in carrots protects your vision from macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in seniors. Dark leafy vegetables such as collards or mustard greens provide that same benefit by adding extra zinc to your diet.
The same vitamin C that helps fight the common cold will keep your skin looking younger, too. Studies have shown that eating yellow and green vegetables may combat wrinkles along with good hygiene and plenty of water to keep the skin moisturized. Red peppers are a great source of vitamin C.
The crimson color of cherries comes from an element that is known to curb inflammation. There is some indication that inflammation is at the core of all diseases, but where you feel it most is in the joints. The anthocyanins in cherries, blueberries, blackberries and pomegranates can help reduce arthritis and other joint-related problems.
The Power of Cruciferous Vegetables
When you combine crunch with color, you get extra benefits. Crunchy vegetables from the cruciferous family contain isothiocyanates, a compound that helps fight cancer. The best of the best in this group is broccoli because it has both pigment and crunch.
Finding the Color Balance
One of the best ways to ensure that you’re eating foods that keep you healthy is to pay attention to the color of your diet. Filling your plate with colorful foods guarantees that you’re eating foods that have nutritional benefits.
- Blue/Purple – Helps prevent clot formation and lowers your risk of cancer.
- Dark Green – Stimulates the liver to remove carcinogenic compounds from the blood, provides essential vitamins and adds more fiber. The crunchier or leafier the vegetable, the better it is for you.
- Yellow/Green – Yellow and green foods contain lutein for eye health. Focus on avocados, spinach and even pistachio nuts.
- Red – Tomatoes and red peppers offer lycopene to reduce the risk of some cancers and help protect the heart. Tomatoes are good sources of vitamin C, as well.
Cover at least half your plate with color at each meal. This way you know that you are giving your body what it needs to stay young and healthy.
- Darla Ferrara