By: Prof. Nand Lal, Dean,Faculty of Life Sciences & Former Pro-Vice Chancellor,C.S.J.M.Kanpur University) & Priti Sachan
KANPUR:Food is the group of substances (of plant and animal origin) consumed to provide nutrition (carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals etc) to the body of an organism. There are basically three type of food according to their specific requirements and functions; Energy giving foods (cereals, root vegetables, fats, oils, sugar) which are rich in carbohydrates and provide energy, Body building foods (pulses, milk and milk products, meat, fish, eggs) which are rich in protein and help in growth, maintenance and repair of tissue, and Protective foods (fruits, leafy and non-leafy vegetables and other coloured plant parts) which regulate body functions and protect body against diseases.
Protective foods come under functional foods which contain biologically active chemicals designed to have physiological benefits and reduce the risk of chronic diseases in addition to its basic nutritional functions. Functional foods can be recognized and grouped together by their colour and specific nutritional values.
The colours of fruit and vegetables are also a small clue for vitamins, nutrients and phytochemicals they contain. Every colour of the rainbow in fruits and vegetables contains individual or combination of health promoting phytonutrients.
The rainbow fruits and vegetables generally contain little fat, cholesterol or sodium and provide complex carbohydrates, fibre and phytonutrients. The rainbow foods include fruits and vegetables of variant colours including Red, Yellow/Orange, Green, Blue/Purple, White and Black.
The Institute of Functional Medicine (2013) has recommended for a ‘rainbow of colours’ in food plate to ensure proper nutrition and good health (http://handsonhealthstl.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Hands-On-Health-Healthy-Foods.jpg)
The phrase “Eating a Rainbow” is a simple way to get as much colour variety in diet, so as to maximize intake of broad range of nutrients in our diet. At present, people mostly prefer to eat ‘brown/beige’ food, primarily based on their taste; cost and how convenient they are for eating. Processed foods are easy to eat, inexpensive and rich in sugar, fat and salt so that they taste good.
Fast food has very little monetary cost, but there are significant health cost to a diet that is so high in refined carbohydrates and lacks vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals (abundant in plant foods). The ‘brown/beige’ food can never compete to the health benefits provided by coloured fruits and vegetables.
Many of the naturally occurring phytochemicals, responsible for fruit and vegetables bright colours help in combating illnesses like the flu, cancers, digestive issues, declining vision, loss of bone density, deactivating cancer-causing substances, protecting and regenerating essential nutrients and can even help in weight management.
Eating plenty of coloured fruits and vegetables may help in preventing heart diseases and strokes, diverticulitis, control blood pressure and prevent cancer risk and guards against cataract and macular degeneration or vision loss. There are nearly 4000 phytochemicals available in nature and to get their wonderful health benefits, we need to eat more coloured fruits and vegetables daily.
People know they need lots of colour in their diet but find it hard to change food habits. They need to make small changes over a period of time to achieve success. While there may not be much to compare between dinner and Dior, it seems this much is true: “There appears to be more reason to eat the spectrum of colours than to wear”.
There is urgent need to make the public aware about food rainbow colours, related fruits and vegetables, phytochemicals responsible for colour and their health benefits, and promote “Eating a Rainbow” as a pragmatic approach to optimal nutrition and wellness.