Fancy Food Benefits for Less
I wasn’t sure whether to be happy or annoyed at a recent report I read that identified a new trend in food marketing — color is being used as a “powerful marketing tool” for healthy foods like “superfruits” and expensive juices. At the Healthy Foods European Summit in London, it was noted by market research company Euromonitor International that there is great opportunity in the increased consumer awareness of the link between color-giving components of foods and their health benefits. But, while some of these products may indeed be healthful, their benefits don’t necessarily justify their premium price. Good, old-fashioned fruits and vegetables provide plenty of nutrients when included as a significant part of your everyday diet. It’s all about the color.
A Rainbow of Nutrients
Nutritionist Joy Bauer, MS, RD, CDN, author of the New York Times bestseller Joy’s LIFE Diet and the nutrition and health expert for Today, affirms that yes, food manufacturers are increasingly using color to sell pricey fruit juices and other so-called superfoods. But it’s just not necessary. Bauer advises eating five to nine servings (a total of 2½ to 4½ cups) of fresh produce daily, and aiming for three different colors each day. This will give you plenty of super-antioxidant benefit.
Among the bounty of benefits offered by the edible rainbow of fruits and vegetables are the following…
Beets, cherries, cranberries, cranberry juice, pomegranates, red radishes, raspberries, red apples, red cabbage, red grapes, red onions, red potatoes, rhubarb, strawberries, tomatoes, tomato juice, watermelon, etc.
Why eat them: Red produce contains powerful antioxidants such as anthocyanidins and lycopene that help fight heart disease, cancer and aging.
A look at the science: Research at Tufts University asserts that diets containing produce with “high ORAC values” may protect against age-related memory loss. ORAC, or oxygen radical absorbance capacity, measures the antioxidant levels of foods. (For more on ORAC values of foods, see Daily Health News, August 23, 2007.)
Your move: Consume plenty of high-ORAC fruits such as cranberries, strawberries and raspberries. Check out this recipe for cranberry relish at www.epicurious.com.
Apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, clementines, corn, citrus juices, grapefruit, lemons, mangos, orange and yellow peppers, oranges, papayas, peaches, pears, pineapple, pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes, tangerines, yams, etc.
Why eat them: Citrus fruits are an excellent source of vitamin C, and orange and yellow produce is particularly rich in beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A is a must for healthy eyes and skin.
A look at the science: Research shows that beta-carotene in foods such as carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and yellow winter squash offers protection against cancer and cataracts. But be careful about supplements: In high doses these may raise cancer risk in smokers.
Your move: Fill your dinner plate with delectable orange and yellow produce such as baked sweet potatoes and squash, and snack on baby carrots or cantaloupe. Try this recipe for gingered carrot soup at www.molliekatzen.com.
Artichokes, arugula, asparagus, avocados, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, collard greens, green beans, green grapes, green peppers, honeydew melon, kale, kiwis, lettuce, limes, okra, peas, snow peas, spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens, zucchini, etc.
Why eat them: Greens are packed with healthful phytochemicals and nutrients such as indoles, lutein and folate.
A look at the science: A deficiency of folate, the B vitamin known as folic acid, has been linked with a higher rate of colon cancer, possibly by increasing the risk of DNA damage in colon cells. Indoles help lower estrogen levels, which can reduce the risk of estrogen-related breast cancer, while lutein protects eyesight.
Your move: To promote colon health, eat folate-rich foods such as cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage), dark green leafy vegetables, beans and peas. Even if you’re not normally a fan, you may be converted by these baby Brussels sprouts with buttered pecans from Gourmet magazine: www.gourmet.com.
Blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, grapes, plums, prunes, raisins, etc.
Why eat them: Anthocyanidins found in blue- and purple-hued produce function as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant influences and can enhance memory, decrease cancer risk and help control blood pressure.
A look at the science: In trial results published in the Journal of Gerontology, scientists reported that a grape-enriched diet resulted in lower blood pressure, reduced inflammation and better heart function (at least in rats).
Your move: Promote heart health by adding flavonoid-rich fruits and vegetables such as grapes, blueberries and blackberries to your daily diet. Mix up this blueberry smoothie from www.blueberry-recipe.com .
And Even White
Bananas, cauliflower, garlic, ginger, jicama, leeks, mushrooms, parsnips, pears, potatoes, turnips, etc.
Why eat them: White fruits and vegetables are abundant in flavonoids. Garlic contains organosulfur compounds such as allicin, while bananas and potatoes are rich in potassium.
A look at the science: Over 25 studies note that a diet high in potassium helps lower blood pressure, according to the American Dietetic Association, yet most Americans fail to take in sufficient amounts of this vital mineral.
Your move: To lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of stroke, eat potassium-packed foods such as bananas and baked potatoes with their skins. Potatoes are a good source of many nutrients (vitamin C, B6, potassium and more) and the skins are a good source of dietary fiber. Learn how to make an energy-packed banana fruit salad at www.energyfanatics.com.
PAINT YOUR PLATE WITH A COLORFUL PALETTE
- Minimize starch, moderate animal protein, and pile on colorful veggies. That means instead of placing a hunk of meat in the center of your plate and adding pasta and rice on the side, fill half your plate with colorful vegetables — making them the center attraction.
- Go local. Local produce in season is generally the freshest, most nutritious and least expensive alternative. And especially in these lean economic times, Bauer notes that a humble apple is just as healthy a choice as a more exotic and costly imported pomegranate or bottle of acai juice.
- Don’t avoid frozen fruits and vegetables. Frozen fruits and vegetables are generally picked at the peak of ripeness, which also correlates with nutritional value. While they often don’t maintain the crispy texture of their fresh counterparts, frozen produce is a healthful and often economical option during off-season months.
Joy Bauer, MS, RD, CDN, nutritionist and bestselling author of Joy’s LIFE Diet: Four Steps to Thin Forever (Collins Living) and Joy Bauer’s Food Cures (Rodale). Bauer has built one of the largest nutrition centers in the country in New York City (http://www.joybauer.com/) and is the nutrition and health expert for the Today show. She is a contributing editor to Self magazine and Parade.