What is “color”?
According to books, the definition of the word color is “a phenomenon of light (as red, brown, pink, or gray) or visual perception that enables one to differentiate otherwise identical objects”
In food color compounds can be natural, from the food itself or artificially added, in order to give food a better taste; scientists did many experiments and found out that if we serve a strawberry juice colored with green pigments, people had the tendency to not perceive the taste as much as when the juice kept its natural red color.
In this article I will write about the natural color present in food, thanks to enzymes and phytochemicals.
According to Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, “We eat foods primarily based on their taste, their cost, and how convenient they are,” she notes. “The food manufacturers have done a great job of creating many foods that are easy to eat, inexpensive, and rich in sugar, fat, and salt so that they taste good. Starches, fats, and sweets are the least expensive foods in the diet, so it’s easy to see why we lean toward these ‘brown/beige’ foods. They fill us up for very little monetary cost, but there are significant health costs to a diet that is so high in refined carbohydrates and devoid of the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals that are so abundant in plant foods.”
So what does color have to do with diet anyway?
One word: photochemical. These substances occur naturally only in plants and may provide health benefits beyond those that only essential nutrients provide. Color, such as what makes a blueberry so blue, can indicate some of these substances, which are thought to work synergistically with vitamins, minerals, and fiber in whole plant foods to promote good health and lower disease risk. Acting as antioxidant they protect and regenerate essential nutrients and work to deactivate cancer-causing substances.
A rainbow diet can provide a variety of those nutrients and phytochemicals.
The golden rule here, from my chef-point-of-view is to use creativity and to play with food colors and food plating.
Also in our present culture the color of the food has so many symbolic meanings, like red and white are associated with important events like weddings or holidays, and green and brown are associated with everyday food or simple food: think for example to salads and whole bread or whole pasta.
According to the WHO we should eat all the colors, everyday, and as much as possible.
WHITE: it’s a symbol of purity and simplicity. Think about wedding cakes, or simple foods like rice and milk.
White foods, like almonds, apples, pears, onions, daikon, turnip, garlic, celery, fennel, cauliflower, banana, cashews, endive, coconut, lychees, and rambutans are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibers. They are helpful against cellular aging and circulatory pathologies. They are also bone-strengtheners.
ORANGE AND YELLOW: these two colors make us think about energy, about solar light, gold, saffron, vitality and happiness! In some traditions, like the Roman, yellow pigments were used to dye the clothes used in rituals and ceremonies.
Orange and yellow food contains beta-carotene, which is a precursor of Vitamin A and a powerful antioxidant. They are immunity boosters, help with eyesight and cell reconstruction.
Some foods of this group are: apricot, carrot, cantaloupe, pumpkin, orange, lemon (also rich in Vitamin C), bell pepper, mango, pineapple, etc.
GREEN: green is a symbol of birth, spring, rebirth, strength and Mother Nature. The most significant nutrients are chlorophyll and magnesium, both very helpful in cancer prevention and used as a metabolism booster.
Some examples: broccoli, courgettes, avocado, kale, parsley, spinach, kohlrabi, rocket, basil and other herbs, cucumber, all the varieties of salads (romaine, chard, iceberg, green oak, frisee, escarole) and fruits like grapes and kiwi, amongst many. All of them are very rich in Vitamin C, one of the most powerful antioxidant ever.
RED: it is the color of fire and blood which, on a symbolic level, represents energy and the power to generate it.
Think of watermelon, red beetroot, tomato, red radish, raspberry, cherry, strawberry, red papaya. Their use can help us reduce the risk of cancer and circulatory problems.
BLUE AND PURPLE: they are associated with relaxation, sleep and balance.
The blue and purple foods are used for blood circulation and for eyesight.
These color bombs can include blueberries, blackberries, plums, grapes, eggplants, red dragon fruit (which is more purple than red) and some varieties of figs. They are rich in potassium and are very helpful for general well-being and for the circulation.
So, put as much color on your plate as possible and pamper yourself with the rainbow diet!