'Pretty' Food Gives Your Health a Boost

A diet rich in color derived from fruits and vegetables arms you with the many different vitamins, minerals and other substances that can keep you healthy.
10/02/2012 05:04 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2012

More Colors, Better Health

It is well-known that a plateful of colors or a sandwich stacked with healthy hues provides a meal packed with more nutrition than your average "beige" offering. Compare a portobello, roasted pepper and spinach panini with a side of carrots to a meal of grilled chicken and fries, and you can just see the difference in vitality. A diet rich in color derived from fruits and vegetables arms you with the many different vitamins, minerals and other substances that can keep you healthy. It's an excellent strategy for keeping your body healthy by preventing or slowing chronic disease and the aging process. And a rainbow-colored menu is also good for protecting the agility of your brain.

Although each of these vitamin-and-mineral-packed foods provides a cornucopia of health benefits, here's a quick look at how the colors can work for you:

  • Red foods like tomatoes and pink grapefruit contain lycopene, which can reduce risk of several types of cancer.

  • Yellow and orange foods such as sweet potatoes, squash and carrots help keep eyes and skin healthy and protect against infections.
  • Blue and purple foods such as berries and grapes are good for your brain and memory and provide excellent anti-aging antioxidants.
  • Green foods such as broccoli and kale are good for your bones because they are rich in vitamin K and calcium.
  • Wake-Up Call

    A pretty plate says, "Hey, pay attention to me, I'm important to notice." And it is important! The phrase "you are what you eat" is not just empty calories! When you take a minute to focus on what you are eating, whether by saying grace, or by just taking a moment to appreciate the food in front of you, it makes your body happier. Studies show that if you pay attention to what you are eating, you often eat less and feel more satiated as a result. Mindless eating -- we've all done it: munched through a bowl of popcorn while watching TV, downed a hamburger while driving, snacked our way through a phone call -- lets you consume calories or over-consume calories without even noticing.

    When you pay attention to what you are eating you learn how to listen to your body and you will hear what it needs. You can observe and take notice of patterns and habits you might be perpetuating. And it may even help tame a tumultuous relationship with food (overeating, under-eating, guilty eating). If you want to delve deeper you may want to check out Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, written by Thich Nhat Hanh, renowned Zen master and Lilian Cheung, Harvard nutritionist.

    Food That Smiles

    Put a face on that grapefruit! Kids learn to love veggies when their meals have a sense of fun! Provide food with a decorative touch, or better yet, let them do it themselves! Participation builds appreciation.

    Some fun, colorful and pretty projects include:

    • "Ants on a Log" made from celery sticks and peanut butter with raisins or carrot sticks and cream cheese with raisins.
    • Rainbow fruit kabobs made with an assortment of fresh fruit chunks
    • "Berry Bears in the Snow" made with a cup of yogurt, fresh berries and a handful of Teddy Grahams.
    • Add a face to a grapefruit with raisin eyes, a strawberry nose and a dark honey smile!

    Pickled for Perfection... and Digestion

    Have you noticed that many cultures have their version of a pickle on the side? New York delis offer their kosher dill. Plates in Chinese restaurants come with decorative pickled carrots. Red pickled onions might end up on a plate in Spain. Despite the culture, these pickles are packed with a traditional purpose. As fermented foods, they play an important role in your diet by providing good bacteria to aid your digestion. Also, that sprig of parsley is not to be ignored. It not only aids digestion, it freshens breath, too! They're not just pretty decorations on your plate, they can work hard for you, too.

    Even If You Don't Make It, Make Time for It

    Find a place to eat out that makes that little extra effort to present food and drink in a lovely way. Where's the cafᅢᄅ that decorates your lattᅢᄅ? Or the tea place that serves you something steaming in a handmade cup? Then there's the chef who only buys tender young beans that fit perfectly on the plate, and has a garden of fresh herbs outside her kitchen. She's putting some love on your plate along with the haricots verts. And of course, there's sushi... always beautifully presented, even when you find it on a grocery shelf. These extra efforts are a feel-good gift for you. In a way, it is another form of comfort food... one that isn't necessarily fattening. And who doesn't need comfort food of that sort?

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