Rainbow on a dish

Have you ever stopped in the aisles of the produce section and marveled at the vibrant colors flooding the space? Have you ever tasted a tomato that was so deeply red that you almost tasted the sun? Ever grab a handful of blueberries and look down to see purple stains on your palms?

The dynamic colors in fruits and vegetables are more than fancy suiting, they are in fact, a biological indicator of the rich and unique differences that make up the plant.

In the fifth century B.C., Horodotus, the father of medicine wrote, “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” A more modern adage that hints at the same wisdom is one most of us heard on the school playground, “You are what you eat.”

Both sentiments hold true in today’s nutritional library and should be heeded by all. While most Americans include ketchup as one vegetable serving out of the five daily suggested by the surgeon general, the more diversity you can pack into one day leads to the end of the rainbow — a pot of golden health.

So, what makes bananas yellow? Spinach green? Raspberries red? The collective vitamins, minerals, pigments, flavors and scents in a plant are called phytochemicals (phyto from Greek word phyton).

Phytochemicals are the miraculous molecules that protect the plant from a plethora of dangers including radiation from the sun, pests and microbes. These “good” chemicals technically include the protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that also work with your body, when you eat them to nourish, protect, and fight free radicals.

As the fruit ripens in the sun and the color grows deeper, this solar shield gets stronger and stronger. Eating fruits and veggies at the height of their ripeness means that you too are getting the maximum nutritional value from that specific plant.

Dr. James Joseph, author of “The Color Code” (2002 Hyperion), coined the phrase ‘defensive eating’ as the practice of using your food to help defend against illness and disease. The phytochemicals in our fruit include the powerful antioxidants that maintain all cellular health.

These facts have been long known in the nutritional community. A classic 1919 study conducted at the University of Wisconsin demonstrated the essential power of pigment in food as an indicator of nutrition.

There were two groups of rats; one was fed all white food (potatoes, rice, bread) while the other group was fed all yellow foods (corn, squash, carrots). The white diet killed the rats within three months — the yellow diet sustained the rats and they “thrived in their usual rat-way.”

This logic follows in comparisons between foods: Pink grapefruit contains lycopene and beta-carotene, therefore it has more diversity than white grapefruit. Dark green spinach is more nutritional than iceberg lettuce. Even red wines contain more antioxidants than whites.

The USDA Web site provides more of these comparisons. Every piece of fruit (white or red) contain important and essential nutrients, but often color is a good indicator of higher vitamin and antioxidant content.

Next time you find yourself wandering through the produce section, and especially at one of our island’s fabulous sunshine markets, observe the rainbow of fruits and vegetables available.

Try to create a dish that incorporates more of these colors, or take the keiki with you and ask them to pick up one veggie for each color in the rainbow.

We often eat with our eyes first, working with the colorful bounty that nature provides is a fun and easy way to pack more vitamins and minerals in to a daily diet.

• Keya Keita, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681 or kkeita@kauaipubco.com.

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