Science and ancient wisdoms agree that you should eat as many colours with each meal as possible.
Ancient wisdoms, like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Chinese cooking as well as Ayurveda, teach that each colour through their corresponding electromagnetic radiation make us feel differently emotionally and physically. They say if you are weak or ill, you should consume certain colours of food that help a particular organ where your problem, they believe, is coming from. Let’s say you have kidney problems (fertility is related to kidneys in TCM), you should eat more dark, kind of black food, such as seaweed, and black sesame for instance.
Ever since my traditional Indian ex taught me to make my meals colourful, I’ve looked at my dishes while cooking, and when I see only green with beige (spinach and quinoa e.g.), my need to use at least orange (carrots, sweet potato) or red (red pepper or tomato) is naturally rising.
In a way, unintentionally, Western medicine starts to back up these wisdoms. Science has recently published a variety of well researched studies concluding that certain colours in plants signal the presence of diverse phytochemicals and phytonutrients. Further more, particular colours consistently signal particular phytochemicals and nutrients.
“Eat all of the colors of the rainbow,” says Dr. Michelle Hauser, a clinical fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School and a certified chef and nutrition educator. “The highest concentration of nutrients is found in dark green, purple, deep red and orange foods.”- he says.
Bellow I collected for you the scientific features of the colours Dr. Hauser refers to, and examples of the vegetables, fruits belonging there, plus the organs TCM connects the given colours to. You will notice that some veggies are listed in more groups because they have the shades and phytonutrients of both.
- GREEN fruits and vegetables typically contain high concentration of sulforaphane, osocyanate, beta-carotene, lutein, indoles, antioxidants, A, K, C & B-vitamins, potassium, calcium and iron; They offer a great support in restoring fertility and in symptomless transformation during menopause. Lutein and indoles help lower your risk of certain cancers, improve eye health, and promote healthy bone formation. Spirulina for instance is a blue-green algae packed with antioxidants, B-vitamins, and nutrients to support your immune system and detoxification pathways. TCM recommends to eat green in colour for your liver, gallbladder, eyes, muscle, and joints. Mung bean, wasabi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, kale, bok-choy, broccoli rabe, salad greens, sprouts, collard or turnip greens., Swiss chard, avocado, grapes, spirulina, chlorella;
- PURPLE / BLUE: gets its colour from anthocyanin, a water-soluble pigment that has been linked with antioxidants and anti-aging properties in the body. Depending on its pH level, the pigment may appear red, purple or blue. They typically contain lypocene, flavonoids, and vitamins D, K, E & C, and antioxidants. They help urinary-tract health, promote bone formation, can help lower your risk of certain cancers, improve metabolism and memory. Some of the very dark green vegetable varieties, like dark kale, have a lot of the phytochemicals that produce purple hues -Dr. Hauser says. -“It’s just that the green pigments overpower the purple ones.” Some kales, eggplant, red onion, red lettuces, turnips, potatoes, red cabbage, asparagus, plums, blackberry, blueberry, grapes;
- RED: The pigment found in abundance in red, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables is lycopene. Lycopene is used to prevent heart disease, keep your arteries healthy, help with skin protection, and contains fibre to help with your digestive tract. Tomatoes are an abundant source of lycopene, but it is also found in watermelons, pink grapefruits, apricots and pink guavas. The science isn’t clear yet whether the health benefits of tomatoes for instance come mostly from lycopene or from their full range of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. They contain high amount of vitamin C and A, potassium, iron and antioxidants. Cinnamon for instance is listed among red spices, and is known to be one of the strongest spice with anti-oxidant, anti-diabetic, anti-septic and anti-inflammatory properties. TCM teaches to eat red in colour for your heart, small intestine, and brain. Beets, red peppers, radicchio, tomato, chili, red lentil, goji berry, watermelon, strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, redcurrant, cinnamon;
- ORANGE / YELLOW: Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables get their colour from the antioxidants alpha- and beta-carotene. Most of them also provide significant amounts of vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium, iron, and potassium. Beta-carotene serves as the powerful antioxidant, a precursor of vitamin A, is good for eye health and it has kind of anti-aging properties nourishing the skin. Vitamin A neutralises free radicals in the body, especially in the eyes.They are also stock full of vitamin C, another strong antioxidant which boosts the immune system and protects against cardiovascular disease. In TCM they are taught to help the digestive system and the spleen.Carrots, sweet potato, sweet or baby corn, taro, pumpkin, butternut squash, yellow pepper, ginger, turmeric, orange, star fruit, lemon, pineapple, papaya, egg yolk, oats, quinoa, honey;
- WHITE: White fruits and vegetables contain compounds called flavonoids, such as quercetin, kaempferol and anthoxanthins, which have a range of healthful properties. They have high concentration of vitamin C, K, E and B, potassium, magnesium, as well as calcium and other minerals. In TCM white food is believed to benefit your lungs, large intestine, nose, the entire respiratory system, and skin. Garlic, daikon, onion, banana, almond, white sesame, rock sugar, and more.onions, leeks, -celery, -asparagus, kohlrabi, radishes, Napa cabbage, squash, fennel, and turnips, cauliflower, tofu, yoghurt, kefir.
WARNING: In processed foods colours are used to drive your shopping behaviour banking on their so called “colour dominated taste”. Consumer researchers found that colour of the food directly influences our perception of taste. (While people failed to perceive taste differences between sweetened and natural orange juice when the different juices had exactly the same colour, participants tasted one sweeter when it had a deeper orange colour and more sour when it was lighter yellow. This phenomena is called “colour dominated taste” which is well used in marketing processed food. Don’t get misled by this. Rely on colours of natural ingredients!
In short: Because colours of vegetables, fruits and other edible ingredients are representing certain nutrients, certain chemical compounds, the variety of colours at each meal will make your meals more nutritious. The more colours you eat the better mix of building blocks you provide to your personal bio-chemical laboratory, so your body has a better chance of producing everything you need.