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You’ve been telling your patients forever that they need to add more fruits and vegetables to their diets. You’ve probably hyped the "High Five" until you’re blue in the face.
Now there’s an amazingly simple and easy-to-follow recommendation that not only adds more fruits and veggies to the day’s intake, but provides a cornucopia of nutrients that many Americans are missing. Tell your patients to eat the rainbow.
That means, in the simplest terms, eat at least one food a day from each of the major color groups: red; orange/yellow; green; blue/purple; and white/green. The bright, beautiful colors are as close as the nearest supermarket. It’s not necessary to remember to take handfuls of pills or cook anything particularly unusual. It’s easy to remember and works like a charm. (See "Eat the Rainbow," below.)
"Look at the typical American dinner plate. It’s probably got meat, potatoes, perhaps some corn, and maybe a piece of bread. What are the colors? Beige and white," says University of California, Los Angeles nutrition researcher David Heber, MD, director of the University’s Center for Human Nutrition. "Instead of recommending more fruit and vegetable intake, the trick is to add variety so they’re eating as many colors as possible every day."
There are more than 25,000 phytonutrients known to science — and the typical American diet is sadly limited to a few hundred found in commonly eaten foods, Heber says. Americans eat about 20 fruits and vegetables on a regular basis, while the long-lived Mediterranean people enjoy twice that number regularly and the Japanese, with their low cancer rate, average nine vegetables in a single meal.
"Humans are genetically coded to be attracted to brightly colored foods that are nutritionally essential," says dietitian Carol Haggans, RD, MSRD, spokeswoman for the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, DC. "It is interesting that research bears out that the more intense hues we find in fruits and vegetables, the more helpful they are to maintaining health, especially in view of the growing body of re-search that indicates these foods help protect against cancer."
Eating the rainbow brings with it scientifically validated protection against cancer and heart disease and helps bring about weight loss, further reducing the risk of many chronic diseases. Haggans suggests that combining brightly colored foods provides a phytonutrient soup that may work synergistically to create and even restore health, and does it much more efficiently than supplements.
Heber notes the results of several scientific studies that show:
"Although this is not a weight-loss diet per se, many people lose some weight as they begin to eat more fruits and vegetables and substitute healthy foods for sugary, high-fat snacks," Heber says.
Here’s a breakdown of the health benefits associated with brightly colored foods: