Rainbows in legend and folklore often represent promises. The Irish folk promise a pot of gold at rainbow’s end; the weatherman promises a bright clear day alter the rainbow appears; The Biblical promise to Noah that never again would flood threaten the world was sealed with the appearance of the mighty rainbow over Mt Ararat.
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Nutritionally, rainbow colors can truly promise, and deliver good health if we pay attention to the body’s needs and eat a broad spectrum of foods that supply an equally broad spectrum of protective nutrients.
Health researchers are discovering literally hundreds of biologically active plant food compounds (called phytochemicals) that work to prevent and sometimes even to treat, major diseases such as cardiac disease and cancer.
What is more, the protective nature of many plant compounds are often linked to the food’s distinctive color. So, by knowing what color group a plant belongs to, we can tell what healing compounds it contains.
Carotenoids And Bioflavonoids Are Color Families
What actually gives fruit and vegetables distinctive colors? Two major “families” of biological color controllers are responsible: (1) Carotenoids and (2) Bioflavonoids. According to American Pharmacist-Nutritionist, Dr. Earl Mindell, Carotenoids provide fruit and vegetables with the Orange, Red and Yellow colors; however, green veggies also contain carotenoids but their green chlorophyll content masks the red-orange components.
The carotenoid “family” of biologically active color substances numbers about 600 and of these only a handful has been studied in detail. But what treasures these few gems of color have revealed! More on these shortly. Bioflavonoids (the name means “living color body”) is the second major family of color substances and number about 500 compounds.
Again, only a small number of these have been investigated at length and like the Carotenoid group, the color gems amongst the Bioflavonoids are also wonder-workers adding many promising compounds to the list of natural substances usable for the treatment of serious diseases.
In general, Bioflavonoids (also known as “vitamin P”) help keep connective tissue firm and healthy and help improve the strength of small blood vessel walls (capillaries).
Color Compounds That Protect
Most of the color range of our healthy rainbow act as “protectors” for our body cells either by preventing damage from free-radical oxygen (that is, acting as antioxidants) or as direct bloating agents to harmful chemicals present in the body for whatever reason. Let’s look at the color groups individually and name a few representative “good guys” and the foods in which they occur.
White not actually a “color” but a special category by itself. “White” foods include soya bean products, Reishi mushrooms, and parsnips. Soy contains Genistein, Lignans, and Isoflavonoids. These are converted in our intestines to oestrogen-like compounds called Ekuols which compete with the more active form of oestrogen called estradiol produced by our bodies.
Ekuol stops the active estradiol from entered cells and bringing about cancerous changes. This blocking action is very important because many researchers believe the more potent estradiol promotes the growth of tumors.
Reishi mushrooms are known for their potent immune system stimulating properties, cancer- growth inhibitors and heart protective effects. Parsnips contain six important phytochemicals that may help prevent cancer and heart disease. Among these six compounds are our old friends the carotenoids and flavonoids, but also coumarins and phenolic acids.
Dark Green And Light Green
Veggies with these colors contain Alpha-Carotene and Sulforaphane and include all the dark green leafy veggies, broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale mid green spring onions. Green Tea is also listed here and has been shown to contain Catechins which are proven anti-cancer and anti-cholesterol substances.
Green capsicums (along with other vegetables noted below) act to block harmful effects of some “protective” agents in the body too and help maintain the body’s cellular resistance to invading bacteria or viruses. Sulforaphanes promote the body’s production of special enzymes that protect the cell’s vulnerable genetic material and prevent “take overs” by cancer cells that cause normal cells to duplicate uncontrollably.
A Fruit Salad Of Good Guys
Red, Yellow, Orange: Red Strawberries, Yellow Pineapple, Orange carrots, Red-Orange Papaya and Yellow Turmeric contain p-coumaric and chlorogenic acids which act as Nitrosamine blockers. Nitrosamines are formed when we eat foods preserved with nitrites that combine with our own internal naturally occurring nitrates.
Nitrosamines destroy cell DNA (the genetic “blueprint” inside each cell) and lead to cancerous changes in the cells. Fortunately, if we are cooking and eating abundant amounts of red-yellow- orange fruits and vegetables at the same time we may be eating nitrite-containing foods, the protective properties of the colorful good guys are there to prevent damage. These protective elements are present whether the food is cooked or raw and also occur in veggie juices.
Another set of “good guys” in the red-yellow- orange group of the carotenoid family are Lutein and Lycopene. These are reported to be the most important of all the phytochemicals yet identified. Red tomatoes and red capsicums are two common source of Lutein and Lycopene. Three forms of cancer – bladder, cervical and pancreatic – are less likely to occur when Lycopene is present in the diet.
The culinary herb Turmeric, well known in India and a necessary part of any curry recipe, is a powerful red-orange medicinal plant with anti-inflammatory activity. In heart disease, turmeric can lower blood pressure and prevent clots. Fain and associated inflammation in arthritis is also treated with the phytochemicals in turmeric.
Yellow-red Papaya is an enzyme rich fruit containing Papain and Prolase which aids protein digestion. Discomfort on eating high protein meals can often be alleviated by eating papaya or taking papaya enzyme tablets with food.
Yellow-red colors define the presence of Quercetin in fruits and vegetables. This is a powerful antioxidant whose best food sources are yellow and red onions and shallots. Quercetin combined with Vitamin C has anti-viral activity and is used as well in cancer prevention. There is lots yet to reveal amidst its colorful treasures.