Eating Across The Rainbow – What Food Colours Mean

By | May 15, 2017

All fruits and vegetables have a combination of different phytonutrient families and it is the combination that determines what colour that they are. The terms polyphenols and bioflavanoids or flavanoids are used interchangeably by media sources. They are used to describe chemical compounds that we call phytonutrients and it makes it all confusing. In a nutshell, phytochemicals come from different families and each family tends to represent a colour, as mentioned before with all foods have some type of combination: researchers study the chemical – they do not study the food and by doing this they learn the health properties such as anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatories, anti- cancer and heart protective, etc.

Consider this:

• Pick a food and read up on its phytonutrient benefits
• It is hard to not be impressed how complex these plants are and the benefits they provide for our health
• The research done to date is just at the beginning
• We just need to simply eat them, it’s easy!

What The Colours Mean

Red – represents the lycopene family as found in tomatoes
Yellow & Orange – the carotenoid family as found in carrots
Green – represents the chlorophyll family as found in kale
Purple & Blue – represents the anthocyanin family as found in blueberries
Black – the richest source of anthocyanins as found in black beans
Brown – catechins as found in tea and chocolate

Heritage Varieties

Known as heirloom plants or heritage fruits and heirloom vegetable, they are old cultivars that are being maintained by gardeners and farmers. Before the age of industrialized agriculture and mono-cropping, farmers routinely grew many varieties. It is believed now that mono-cropping improves consistency.

Practicing crop diversity is beneficial because it:

• allows for natural hybrids to occur
• farmers continue to learn
• creates healthier plants
• protects the soils

Seeds of Diversity in Canada and Seeds of Change in the US both protect heritage varieties. They work with farmers to maintain heritage seeds. They can be purchased for you to use in your garden and heritage plants are showing up in nursery for you to plant as well. The heritage varieties show you the diversity of any type of food and they come in multiple colours. Look for them in your grocery stores and at farmer’s markets.

The Benefits of Phytonutrients

Lycopene:
A type of carotenoid that is heart protective, helps with male fertility, prevents aging of the skin. It also helps prevent diabetes and osteoporosis. It is found in tomatoes, red peppers, guava, papaya, watermelon, pink grapefruit and mangos.

Carotenoids:
The other carotenes such as lutein, beta-carotene and zeaxanthin are just a few of the carotenoids and are represented by yellow and orange-coloured foods. All are anti-oxidants and may be helpful in preventing cancer. All of them are helpful with eyesight. Think of carrots, cauliflower, summer zucchini, sweet potatoes, yellow peppers and all yellow squash as good sources of carotenoids.

Chlorophyll:
This is the green pigment found in all plants. It cleanses and builds the blood, and helps detoxify the body. It helps promote good bacteria and is a major antioxidant. It supports the immune system and helps fight infection and may help protect against cancer. Good sources of chlorophyll are found in green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli, parsley, cilantro and wheat grass.

Anthocyanins:
Break open the bottle of red wine and enjoy the benefits of anthocyanins. Okay, not too much wine though. Anthocyanins are major anti-oxidants that help protect the blood, brain, nervous system, as well as support the growth of collagen and connective tissue. They help protect eyesight and have heart protective and cancer preventative properties. Blueberries, red and purple grapes, raspberries, black currents, black berries, black raspberries, pomegranate, red cabbage, eggplant are all good sources. Foods that are black like black beans, black sesame, black rice and black cherry tomatoes are also sources of anthocyanins.

Catechins:
Catechins are found is green tea, black tea and chocolate. All catechins are potent antioxidants. They are heart protective, they improve cognitive function and help prevent cancer.

Experience the Rainbow
The best health is going to be achieved by having a combination of all colours. Rotate the foods in each colour group so you are not always eating the same red food or the same yellow food. Combine the colours on your plate every day and try to have some in every meal. Enjoy!