What is the benefit of loading up on colors? Why do people talk about eating as many colors as possible? What does it mean to “eat the rainbow?”
Most of the color in our diets comes from the carbohydrate family. When I talk about carbs, I am referring only to ones with an intact fiber matrix. That includes vegetables, beans, fruits and whole grains. It does not include carbohydrates whose fiber matrix has been stripped away — like white “refined” flour, corn starch & syrup, sugar or white “polished” rice. There is a reason these have no color.
Think about the colors that grow in gardens all over the world. Red peppers, black beans, red onions, purple figs and eggplants, green broccoli buds, red tomatoes, oranges, red and green apples, lemons and limes, red and yellow bananas. Grains like barley or rye that range from warm yellows to rich, dark browns. Red, green and black lentils. Pinto and kidney beans. Corn kernels the color of sapphire, or amethyst. Leafy greens from the palest Belgian endive to the darkest green curly kale. Olives from fluorescent green to purple-black. Berries!, from the palest pink to the deepest blue. Herbs and spices like oregano, paprika, parsley, silvery rosemary. And zatar, fatoush, cumin and turmeric. The list of possibilities covers the entire spectrum, and surely includes many more colors that bees can see but we, mere mortals, cannot.
So what is the value of all this color? The answer lies in one word: nutrition. Each nuance of color represents a different phytonutrient, a different building block for the good health of all the animals that feed on these phytonutrients. This is a surefire way to strengthen our muscles and bones, enhance our immunity, protect our reproductive capacity, preserve the cells that constitute our gastrointestinal tracts, our skin, our sight, our hearts and brains.
A phytonutrient is a nutrient, or building block, whose origin is plants. “Phyto” means plant. It is a sorry state of affairs that the standard American diet consists in large part of just 10 plants, including, most notably, corn, soy, wheat and potatoes. The native American diet, in contrast, once contained thousands of plants.
Whatever diet you choose to eat, its foundation must rest on plants, and the more variety, the better. Whether you eat the standard American diet, plant-based or Paleo, vegetarian or vegan, Zone or Weight Watchers, find a way to incorporate more plants into your meals. Every part of your body, from the inside (your metabolism, appetite and desire) to the outside (the size of your waistline and quality of your skin) will thank you.