You know kale is good for you, but do you know why? Foods like kale have been put in the category of “functional foods.” Functional foods are simply foods that may provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition. These foods are typically full of color, found in fruits and vegetables and provide a variety of benefits for our bodies. A diverse and colorful palette contributes higher amounts of phytonutrients and antioxidants: the properties that fight off disease and keep us looking youthful! Need some ideas? Here are a handful of my favorite colors that just happen to be nutritious winners.
Red: Foods like cherries, apples, beets, red onions, tomato and cabbage have properties called lycopene, ellagic acid and quercetin. These foods are not only high in vitamin A and fiber, they may reduce the risks of prostate cancer, heart disease and gastrointestinal disorders.
Blue and Purple: Blue and purple foods contain resveratrol in the skin, which has been shown to provide anti-aging benefits. These pretty shades also have anthocyanin, which assists in reducing blood clots, lowering cholesterol and preventing the formation of plaque in the arteries. My picks are blueberries, grapes, eggplant and purple carrots.
Green: Green is a great source of many antioxidants, the most common being calcium (move over milk!), lutein, vitamin C and zeaxanthin. Leafy greens like Romaine lettuce, spinach and collard greens all may aid in preventing macular degeneration leading to cataracts. Kale has become quite the trendy food these days, and for good reason. It may keep bones and teeth strong, and also may prevent arthritis. However, give the other greens a shot. Brussels sprouts, arugula, broccoli and even celery all count.
Yellow and Orange: Grandma was right; carrots help you see at night! Yellow and orange pigment foods provide carotenoids, which improve heart health, night vision and a healthy immune system. So many of our favorite foods fall into this category: carrots, yellow squash and my personal favorite, sweet potatoes.
White: While the pigment isn’t bright, white foods are a great source antioxidants that maintain a healthy heart and reduce risk of many types of cancer. They are rich in the properties allicin and indole. What are white foods? Think a simmering batch of spaghetti sauce with onions, garlic, shallots and mushrooms! White foods protect against inflammation, and possibly reduce blood sugar and blood pressure. Some other favorites are artichokes, cauliflower, pears, plantains and coconut.
Need some ideas to add more color into your diet? Aim to include one color of the rainbow at every meal and snack. Try these examples:
- Purple blueberries in your mid-morning yogurt.
- Green spinach and kale on your lunch salad or sandwich.
- Orange carrots with hummus or low fat Ranch dressing for an afternoon snack.
Still need other tricks to “sneak” in colors (picky toddler section):
- Add pureed carrots or sweet potatoes to dishes and casseroles like mac and cheese.
- Try mashing cauliflower and add to meals containing potatoes.
- Add chopped or pureed tomatoes, kale or red peppers to meat dishes such as meatloaf or casseroles.
Functional foods can boost your health in a variety of ways. Even a small serving can reduce disease, improve general health and maybe even counteract a few of those pesky wrinkles.
About the author: Kate Collins is a registered dietitian, Oklahoma City mom of three and author of the blog The Dietitian Diet. Because she's struggled with weight herself, she takes a practical approach to helping her clients and readers maintain a healthy lifestyle and believes in balance.