For the first time ever, the USDA’s 2005 food guide pyramid addresses eating produce of varying colors on a daily basis–which is quite an improvement, in my opinion. Americans have gotten into the bad habit of eating colorless foods, including white bread, white rice, white potatoes, white sugar, and white (iceberg) lettuce. A recent book, The Color Code: A Revolutionary Eating Plan for Optimal Health, discusses research on the health benefits of phytonutrients and recommends that you choose foods from a minimum of four color groups daily: red, orange-yellow, green, and blue-purple.
The phytonutrients available in each color group vary with the pigment. For example, red foods such as tomatoes and tomato products contain lycopene, which may prevent prostate cancer in men; the carotenoids in yellow-orange foods may reduce your risk of heart disease; green foods such as broccoli contain sulforaphane, a cancer fighter; and blueberries, in the last color group, contain nearly 100 different known phytonutrients, making them the No. 1 ranked food in terms of antioxidants and disease-fighting power.
Generally speaking, the darker the food, the more phytonutrients it contains. Legumes illustrate this concept well: black beans are highest in antioxidants (flavonoids), followed by the red, brown, yellow, and white varieties, in decreasing amounts. The majority of these compounds are found in the darker-colored seed coats of the legumes; the outer coatings contain the antioxidants that plants use to protect themselves from oxidative damage by the sun’s ultraviolet rays, and plants with more of these compounds are better protected.
Antioxidants are very popular supplements because of their purported ability to slow aging, which is believed to result largely from cumulative oxidative damage in the body. Since the majority of diabetic complications appear also to be related to unchecked oxidative stress in various tissues and organs, eating foods containing more antioxidant power may somewhat mitigate the negative impact of elevated BG. In addition to blueberries, go out of your way to include other particularly potent fruits with high antioxidant and disease-fighting power in your diet, including strawberries, raspberries, oranges, mangoes, grapefruit (particularly pink), kiwi, avocados, concord grapes, cherries, and dried plums.
The list of vegetables to embrace in your diet includes tomatoes and broccoli, as well as red bell peppers, sweet potatoes (No. 1 vegetable for overall content of vitamins A and C, folate, iron, copper, calcium, and fiber), carrots (No. 2), winter squash, kale, spinach, purple cabbage, and eggplant. As for other foods, dark chocolate and cocoa, red wine, green and black tea, and coffee also contain large amounts of antioxidants, but moderate your consumption of semisweet dark chocolate and wine to avoid taking in too many calories.
Next week, I’ll talk more about how to easily start reducing your intake of refined and added sugars.