When it comes to color, the prettier the food on the plate the better it probably is for you.
Eating the rainbow is a good rule of thumb, and we‘re not talking about the kind that comes in a box of Froot Loops.
“The colors of many vegetables reflect the different antioxidant phytochemicals they contain,” writes Michael Pollan in his book “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.” Many of these chemicals help protect against chronic diseases, but each in a different way.
In the short manual, the New York Times best-selling author offers 64 concise guidelines for eating, and it pretty much boils down to: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
An easy way to do this—while sampling from the color palette—is salad. With three to four basic ingredients and a simple dressing, almost anyone can be a healthy chef, creating dishes that please the mouth, and the eyes.
Start with a leafy green. Spinach, kale, arugula and Asian greens make great bases for any salad. They are high in Vitamin A, B6, C, K and E, and fiber, and low in calories. These vitamins, and the lutein, found in greens fight against degenerative eye diseases, inflammation and can reduce oxidation in the blood, which is associated with many diseases.
With a blank canvas in place, now it’s time to have fun as a culinary artist.
Throw in color.
Red foods, like peppers and tomatoes, contain lycopene which may help prevent prostate cancer. They are also high in folate, which means a healthier heart.
Orange foods, like carrots and sweet potatoes, are high in beta carotene which reduces risk of cancer and heart disease. But you don’t have to stick to veggies; tangerines, peaches and even grapefruit are a sassy way to spice up any salad, and the Vitamin C they offer doesn’t hurt either.
Locally, sweet, yellow, fresh-from-the-cob Olathe corn is a crunchy addition that gives salad some bite.
Blue doesn’t occur naturally in food very often, but when it does, eat it. The benefits of blueberries are wide-ranging, from anti-oxidants, anti-cancer agents and the presence of kaempferol, which could fight anxiety and depression.
The most popular purple food is arguable the beet. A recent study showed that the betalain found in beets has antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Simply peel the beet, dice it up into 1/2-inch pieces and boil until soft. Once cooled, it can be added to the masterpiece. (Though most commonly found as magenta, beets come in yellow and orange too.)
Less sexy on the color spectrum, but equally as important are white, brown and black foods. Onions and garlic contain flavonoids, which again fight cancer. Besides helping reduce cholesterol and lower high blood pressure, mushrooms contain polysaccharides that are thought to boost the immune system and inhibit the growth of tumors. And whole grains, which also have their place on a salad, are high in magnesium, iron and fiber.
Here are some suggested color combinations, but let out that inner artist and come up with your own assemblage:
* Spinach, beets, grapefruit, feta and sunflower seeds.
* Arugula, tomatoes, caramelized onion, goat cheese and pine nuts.
* Mixed greens, red pepper, carrots, corn, mozzarella and walnuts.
* Asian greens, strawberries, avocado, manchego and macadamia nuts
Nutritional information for this article was compiled from “Superfoods” by Tonia Reinhard.