Is your plate colorful at meal time?
The majority of foods in a typical American diet are bland and pale in color such as pasta, white breads, cheese and white rice.
Science has shown that colorful foods are healthier because they contain antioxidant pigments. For example, the orange pigment in carrots and sweet potatoes is due to the beta carotene, the red in tomatoes is from lycopene and the blue in blueberries is from anthocyanin. Antioxidants have been proven to protect against cancer, to boost the immune system as well as prevent cardiovascular disease. Berries are the second only to herbs and spices as having the most antioxidant concentration. They pack an average of nearly ten times more antioxidant content than other fruits and vegetables. According to a study comparing antioxidant levels of 100 different berries, blackberries have the most, followed by blueberries, raspberries, cranberries and strawberries. Other berries to consider are tart cherries or goji berries. Cherries have shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and natural levels of melatonin. In order to enjoy berries year around, it is reassuring to know that frozen berries retain most of their nutritious qualities.
What about the sugar content of fruit? Consuming sugar (fructose) in natural fruit form is different than the added sugars in processed foods. Eating berries can actually blunt the insulin spike that occurs after eating high glycemic foods. The fiber content apparently slows the digestion of the sugars and the phytonutrients appear to block absorption through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream.
When shopping, antioxidant supplements are not a good substitute. The body digests and absorbs nutrients and fiber from fruits and vegetables more effectively in their natural state. Therefore, start reaching for a variety of colors in the produce section. Consider red rather than green grapes, red onions instead of white, or purple cabbage rather than green. Look for the brightest deepest colored berries and try to consume a ½ cup of them daily for health benefits.
Carol Penfield MS, NPc is a nurse practitioner and certified personal trainer who specializes in Lifestyle Medicine at Emerald Physicians in Yarmouth. She offers private consultations as well as shared medical appointments for weight loss, which are covered by insurance.