How colourful veggies can reshape your health
In a fitness industry dominated by weight loss, the reason for ‘going on a diet’ is almost always to lose weight.
The nutrition industry is no different. We incorrectly value our foods by how much energy they contain. How much protein, how much carbohydrates, how much fat. And ultimately, how many calories.
There’s no denying a link between bodyweight, body composition, and long term health. But we must change this perception that exercise is only for weight loss, and the perception that food is only for weight loss.
There’s so much more to the story. And by limiting our training and nutrition to behaviours that will help us lose weight, we’re missing out on so many more potential health benefits.
So let’s go a little deeper than calories, and look at one of the commonly neglected aspects of how we eat.
The colour of our veggies.
Now, you probably don’t need convincing that vegetables are an important part of a healthy approach to nutrition. But you may not know how important vegetable variety is.
In addition to the superficial ‘calorie’ labels we place on certain vegetables, we should also be examining the ‘phytonutrients’ they provide.
Phytonutrients are components of food found in plant based food sources.
The benefits of different types of phytonutrients are incredible broad. From repairing damage to our cells, fighting age-related changes in our DNA, reducing the laying down of fatty tissue in our body, reducing inflammation, to reducing the risk factors for many chronic diseases. And there are many, many more.
But we don’t need a food lab to identify the phytonutrients in our veggies. We only need to look at the colour. The colour of plant-based foods is the best indicator we have of the type of phytonutrients they contain.
So just like different phytonutrients have different benefits, different food colours will provide us different phytonutrients.
So it will come as no surprise that the recommendation is to consume a wide variety of fruit and vegetable colours.
- There are five colours you should be looking to consume (ideally) every day:
- Red, e.g. tomatoes, radishes, grapefruit.
- Orange/yellow, e.g. carrots, pumpkin, citrus.
- White/brown, e.g. cauliflower, mushrooms, onions.
- Green, e.g. salad greens, broccoli, asparagus, apples.
- Blue/purple, e.g. eggplant, beetroot, blueberries.
And of course, you can combine colours in one food. Eggplant has purple skin and white flesh, cucumber has green skin and white flesh.
And you can use foods with different colour varieties. Eating a handful of red capsicum will give you less phytonutrient diversity than a mixed handful of red, yellow and green capsicum.
When preparing your foods, you should also be mindful of using a variety of preparation methods to broaden your phytonutrient intake. Cooking fruit or vegetables can increase the amount of certain compounds while decreasing others. Hedge your bets by consuming a variety of raw and cooked vegetables.
And remember, you’re not just eating to feed you, but to feed your microbiome – the trillions of bacteria living in your gut. These bacteria determine much of our health. By feeding them a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, you’re encouraging more diversity in your gut. More diversity = more health benefits.
So expand your palate. Broaden the variety of vegetable colours you’re consuming, and experience the wide reaching health benefits.
Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.