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Colorful Eating-MoreLife (A CIGNA Healthcare publication)

With all the talk about herbal supplements, miracle minerals and rejuvenating vitamins, it's easy to forget the everyday health benefits of food. Food can nourish your immune system, liver, bones, blood and cells; help in preventing life-threatening diseases; regulate moods, weight, digestion and hormonal balance; and help maintain optimal mind function. As we age, we need to pay particular attention to eating foods that feed the heart, bones, brain and even skin, such as foods containing vitamin E, protein and calcium, as well as almonds and flax seeds, which supply essential fatty acids.

People in the world's healthiest and longest-lived societies achieve longevity and lifelong health primarily through the foods they eat. The science of food therapy provides practical ways to use knowledge gained from studying the food habits of these people and from nutritional research.

Be Your Own Food Therapist
Food therapists, dietitians and other health professionals can advise you about what you eat, but you can practice food therapy for yourself. Pay attention to your own reactions to food and the effects of healthy foods on your body. Keep track of when and what you eat and how you feel to discover for yourself which foods help energize and rejuvenate and which promote restful sleep. For example, fruits, green vegetables and vivid-colored root vegetables such as yams and beets deliver complex carbohydrates to help sustain energy throughout the day, as well as antioxidants to fight disease.

All plant foods contain "phyto" (plant) chemicals and/or phytohormones that your body needs. Research shows that these foods' different colors, aromas and flavors signify different chemicals, and thus different nutritional values that heal and protect your body from diseases.

Choose Foods for Colors
One simple way to feed your organs all the phytochemicals they need is to eat foods from a wide range of colors. Red tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon contain lycopene, a potent antioxidant and phytohormone that, studies show, helps prevent certain cancers. Deep-colored berries-blackberries, cranberries and strawberries-contain ellagic acid, which balances hormones and may inhibit tumors.

By eating whole fruit for its fiber and phytochemicals first thing in the morning, you can aid your body as it cleanses your system and eliminates waste, in addition to waking up your taste buds for the day! Choose different fruits and add a variety of herbs and spices throughout the week and you'll enjoy a rainbow of color, flavor and aroma. Your body will thrive on the entire spectrum of nutrients.

Color Guide to Refreshing Drinks
Use a variety of color. Pigmentation, flavor and aroma in food are your guide for balancing nutrients such as antioxidants. Using a food processor or blender, blend together any of these fruits and vegetables for a delicious drink. You may also juice any of them (but in juicing you lose pigmentation, fiber and phytohormonal elements). For more protein, add tofu, egg whites, soy flour, nuts, such as Brazilian nuts, or legumes, such as garbanzo beans. On hot summer days, add ice, sherbet, frozen yogurt or ice cream.

Orange/Yellow and Golden Colors: Cantaloupe, mangos, oranges, carrots, papaya, bananas, ginger, yams and sweet potatoes

Green Colors: Broccoli, spinach, celery, bok choy, chard, seaweed, green tea, fresh or dry herbs such as dill, parsley, mint and watercress

Red or Rose Colors: Beets, red cabbage, strawberries, red grapes, cranberries, cherries and pomegranates

Black and Purple Colors: Cherries, grapes, blackberries, black sesame, poppy, and cardamom seeds, black tea, dates and raisins

White Colors: Yogurt, almond and sesame butter, Persian melon, turnips, cabbage and garlic

Sonia Gaemi , Ed.D. , R.D., is a food therapist and author of the forthcoming book Dr. Sonia's Food Wisdom for Women (Simon & Schuster).

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Christine Jones
Created: 2004