why the color of your food matters
They say it’s all about calories in vs. calories out when it comes to body composition goals. If you want to lose weight, you eat at a caloric deficit. If you want to bulk up your muscle, you eat at a caloric surplus. And if you really want to get aggressive you could track your macronutrient percentages.
As the name implies, macro means large. So, the three macronutrients (proteins, carbs, and fats) are needed in LARGE quantities every day. On the other end of the spectrum, there are micronutrients. But just because something is small, doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Just ask Spud Webb. Micronutrients are all the nutrients your body needs daily, just in small quantities. These include all your vitamins and minerals.
MACROS help you SURVIVE
MICROS help you THRIVE
Should you track your micronutrients? Well, you can. But it would be pretty time-intensive and likely unnecessary. Food tracking apps, like My Fitness Pal, will track some of the vitamins and minerals for you and even give you personalized daily targets. It’s a good idea to check these charts regularly, but I don’t think it’s necessary to obsess over them.
If we aren’t tracking, then how can we know if we’re getting enough micronutrients? A common rule of thumb is to eat a rainbow of foods. As you walk through the produce section and see the rainbow of colors of food, you can remember those colors actually represent different micronutrients. Let’s break down some of these colorful nutrients, what they do for your body, and where you can find them.
These colors are indicative of the flavonoid called anthocyanins. They have excellent antioxidant effects, which means they fight off free radicals in our bodies that intend to do damage. The purple/blue hues are known to lower blood pressure, help fight heart disease and may even prevent cancer.
You’ll find this micronutrient in things like eggplant, blueberries, blackberries, plums, and pomegranates. The deeper the color in the plant or food, the richer in anthocyanins. Blueberries are known to be one of the richest sources of antioxidants.
We all know we need to eat our greens. This is true for many reasons! Leafy greens are a great source of fiber which helps make us feel full and satisfied and keeps things moving along in our digestive tract. But the color green also means it contains health-promoting phytochemicals. These phytochemicals are known to ward off a number of different cancers before they can even begin to grow. Green vegetables are also excellent sources of vitamin K, folic acid, and potassium. This means they can help with blot clotting, prevent neural tube defects in pregnancy, and lower blood pressure, respectably.
Excellent sources of green are found in foods like spinach, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and kale. These dark leafy green vegetables should definitely be a priority in your weekly diet.
Our mothers always told us to eat carrots for our eyesight, so we all know it has to be true. The yellow/orange color in foods comes from Vitamin A as well as beta carotene (which is a precursor for Vitamin A). They also contain vitamin C, which we like to use when we get the common cold. These foods absolutely help keep your eyesight healthy as well as improve bone and skin health and your immune system.
Good sources of the colors yellow/orange include carrots, mangoes, cantaloupe, apricots, and squash.
From now on, whenever you see red produce, I want you to think, “That’s Lycopene!” Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that fights cancers and inflammation. Another interesting fact about lycopene is that it actually enhances when the food source is cooked. So, Grandma’s spaghetti sauce is an excellent way to give your body the micronutrients it needs to fight cancer!
Besides tomato sauce, you can get lycopene in foods like watermelon, grapefruit, and cranberries.
Those are just a handful of nutrients found in the colors of our foods. Instead of trying to track each color and nutrient, I advise clients to make an effort to eat a variety of colors each week. You can also be adventurous and try new foods to get their available health benefits. This would be a good excuse to try a kumquat or a jicama salad.
If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend reading the book, “What Color is Your Diet” by David Heber.