Health by Color

When color matters.

We’ve all heard that adding color to our plates creates a more balanced meal and makes us feel better, but do you know why?

_86A8487Adding color to our plates ensures that we get the nutrients we need. In Chinese medicine, each food group and the color of individual foods represent specific organs. Eating foods of a specific color nourishes and balances those organs, which also connects to certain emotions. Our food choices then become a tool for us to master our daily well-being and future health. GREEN foods, especially bitter greens, are connected to the liver, which helps detoxify the body, balance hormones, boost energy and improve the immune system. It also holds the emotions of anger and will. Think frustration versus focus, blurriness versus clarity, and sluggishness versus power.

In short, go green! It’s a very easy way to add health, vitality and empowerment to each meal. Because of their “superfood” health benefits, greens are an exception to my general advice of eating locally and seasonally: Good greens are now widely available year-round wherever we are, and it’s worth finding greens even out of season.

_86A8417Feed your body with leafy greens, especially dark ones, such as kale, collards, bok choy, endives, mustard greens, Swiss chard, field greens, mesclun salad, arugula, watercress and spinach (my least favorite because of the high acid levels, which can cause trouble for people with arthritis and acid reflux among other things). For non-leafy vegetables, choose artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, green beans, green cabbage, celery, peas and sugar snap peas. For extra green super-power, try the green powdered drinks made from cereal grasses, such as wheat grass and barley grass. Fruits include green apples, green grapes, kiwi, lime and green pears. ORANGE AND YELLOW foods nourish the spleen and stomach, and are connected to the emotions of worry and empathy. When we want to feel connected, mindful and emotionally available instead of constantly anxious and worried, we need this food group. They add the sweetness we crave in our foods and help soothe our digestion too.

The pigment that colors orange and yellow fruits and vegetables comes from the group of antioxidants known as carotenoids. Rich in beta carotene, these phytochemicals boost our immune systems and protect our eyes against cataracts and macular degeneration; studies have also shown a decrease in bad cholesterol with an increased intake of vegetables high in carotenoids.

Orange fruits and vegetables also give us vitamin C and folate, which reduces the risk of heart disease and prevents certain birth defects. As an added benefit, many yellow- and orange-pigmented foods contain bioflavonoids, which are believed to have beneficial anti-inflammatory properties.

_86A8581Some good choices include yellow beets, butternut squash, carrots, pumpkin, yams and sweet potatoes. For fruit, look for apricots, cantaloupe, grapefruit, lemon, mangoes, oranges, papayas, peaches, yellow apples, pears and persimmons. WHITE, TAN, BROWN represent the lungs, and is connected to the emotions of grief and loss. Lungs represent our breath and how open we are to letting go of the old and bringing in the new – an important element to navigating life and moving forward.

Garlic and the onion family, as well as other white-hued vegetables, are colored with anthoxanthins and contain allicin, another phytochemical that may help lower both cholesterol levels and blood pressure. It may also assist in reducing the risk of stomach cancer.

_86A8545Add these benefits to your plate with cauliflower, daikon, garlic, ginger, Jerusalem artichoke, jicama, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, radishes, shallots, turnips, leeks, scallions and white fish. For fruit, look toward bananas, brown pears, dates and prunes. BLACK, BLUE AND PURPLE foods are connected to the kidneys, which are related to fear and courage. Kidney stagnation is a common diagnosis; to prevent it, make sure not to intake too much salt, drink plenty of water, and eat some blue and purple foods.

Blue and purple fruits and vegetables may also be the best defense against the effects of aging. The blue pigment in blueberries, purple grapes, red cabbage, beets and plums comes from anthocyanins, phytochemicals that protect cells against damage from carcinogens; they may also help prevent heart disease and improve memory function.

_86A8626Be black and blue with beans, seaweed, black sesame, black mushrooms and purple cabbage. Fruits include blackberries, blueberries, black currants, dried plums, purple grapes, plums and raisins. RED foods nourish and balance our heart and small intestines, and they are associated with happiness. Red-pigmented fruits and vegetables contain lycopene. This is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight heart disease and some types of cancer, particularly prostate cancer. It can also assist in increasing memory functions.

For vegetables, try beets, red beans, radicchio, red onions and rhubarb. For fruit, choose red apples, blood oranges, cherries, cranberries, red grapes, pink/red grapefruit, red pears, pomegranates, raspberries, strawberries and watermelon.

Tomatoes, red potatoes and red peppers are also part of this group; note, though, that these are “nightshade” vegetables, and are not recommended for those with arthritis and osteoporosis. So-called because they grow at night, nightshade vegetables contain high levels of alkaloids, which can cause bones to excrete calcium, other minerals, and trace elements from the body. They can affect nerve muscle functions and the digestive system and can cause inflammation in the joints. Eggplant, spinach and tobacco are some of the other nightshade vegetables.

This article was published in ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME as my NORDIC NOURISHMENT food column.

PHOTOGRAPHY | TORKIL STAVDAL

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