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Color Up Your Diet

Close your eyes and visualize all of the colors of the rainbow. Now think of the various colors of your dinner meal. What hues are represented?

March is National Nutrition Month, and this year’s theme, Eat Right with Color! is ripe for painting a visual impression of abundance. Here in California, we are fortunate to have access to the best of nature’s bounty all year around, so our choices are nearly limitless. So much variety, so little simple information – sigh …

I propose making the choice based on synergy. The concept of synergy is simple, as some things work better in tandem. You can call them “power couples”; it’s about nutrients working in concert to produce a health benefit that is far greater than the sum of its parts.’

As research progresses in the field of food synergy, more and more examples of this type of association between nutrients have been identified, and research is looking for additional dietary patterns all the time, rather than just investigating one variable.

How does it work? There are a number of ways – including simple concepts, like vitamin C increasing the absorption of iron, turning red foods, like peppers and quinoa, or strawberries and spinach, into power couples. Inulin, a type of carbohydrate found in bananas and other foods, serves as nourishment for beneficial bacteria, such as yogurt’s Bifidus, which aids in digestion and boosts immunity.

For this reason, eating a range of foods (of various colors), is as important as eating the right foods, because there are, undoubtedly, hundreds of food synergies that are still undiscovered. Foods come in packages of nutrients, not just as single sources, so the benefits of the Mediterranean-style diet, for example, which includes many healthful patterns of eating, is a perfect example of food synergy on a grander scale. Recent studies have concluded that because it emphasizes olives and olive oil (highly monounsaturated fats), plant foods, whole grains, legumes and fish, following this diet may reduce the prevalence of both metabolic syndrome, and the cardiovascular risk that goes along with it.

Along with the specific “power couples” listed below, here are some additional benefits that have been uncovered in recent research:

  • Vitamin C and the plant estrogens found in soy, legumes and some fruits and vegetables, work together to inhibit the oxidation of LDL "bad" cholesterol.

  • Quercetin, (citrus fruits, apples, onions, parsley, tea, and red wine) and catechins (also found mainly in apples, green tea, purple grapes, and grape juice) worked together to help stop platelet clumping. Platelets are a component in blood that plays an important role in forming clots. Platelets' clumping together is one of several steps in blood clotting that can lead to a heart attack.

  • Eating a little "good fat" along with your vegetables helps your body absorb their protective phytochemicals, like lycopene from tomatoes and lutein from dark-green vegetables. A recent study measured how well phytochemicals were absorbed after people ate a lettuce, carrot, and spinach salad with or without 2 1/2 tablespoons of avocado. The avocado-eating group absorbed 8.3 times more alpha-carotene and 13.6 times more beta-carotene (both of which help protect against cancer and heart disease), and 4.3 times more lutein (which helps with eye health) than those who did not eat avocados, according to Elaine Magee, MPH, RD.

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