Produce that comes in vivid hues contain an arsenal of disease-fighting chemicals called phytonutrients. To get enough of these vital nutrients, just add a single serving (a piece of fruit, a glass of juice, 1 or 2 cups of vegetables) from each of the seven colour families to your whole grains, vegan protein and healthy fats.
Dr. David Heber recommends a diet with fruits and vegetables across the spectrum of colours. Heber groups produce into seven colours categories:
Heber, author of “What Colours is Your Diet?” and director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, says Americans do not receive enough fruits and vegetables in their diets. He believes a category system he created would make it easier to consume the proper amount and types of vitamins needed in diets.
Nearly all fruits and vegetables are low-fat and contain fibre and natural chemicals known as phytonutrients that can help protect against heart disease, cancer and age-related cognitive decline, cataracts and macular degeneration.
Government health experts say that people should get a minimum five servings a day of fresh produce. Currently it’s estimated about a third of the population fulfils that requirement, and it may be as high as 80% that do not get enough servings. As many as 50 percent of Americans don’t eat a piece of fruit all day long. Nine servings are optimal for health maintenance.
“What Colours Is Your Diet?” provides a colours guide to fruits and vegetables and their benefits, as well as recipes to encourage an increased intake of produce. Heber says that counting servings may not be adequate if you are missing out on one or more major colours categories. Not all members of the fruit and vegetable group are alike.
They have unique properties that provide combinations of substances with unique effects on human biology. Therefore, simply eating five servings a day of fruits and vegetables will not guarantee that you are eating enough of the different substances needed to stimulate the metabolic pathways of genes in the different organs where fruits and vegetables have their beneficial effects.
The colours represent 25,000 chemicals that are beneficial. There is evidence that interaction between the colours provides benefits, so it’s important to have a diverse diet and eat different foods. We normally eat three colours groups on average in this country. Heber believes in evolutionary terms, man started out on a plant-based diet.
Fruits and vegetables are historically and biologically important. Our ancestors the hunter-gatherers ate over 800 varieties. The different colours represent families of compounds, and we have even selectively bred the colours we eat into an even narrower range. There are red carrots in India, we eat orange ones. There are 150 varieties of sweet peas, but only a few are available to us. We need to make an extra effort to eat many different foods to get the full range of benefits, he says.