Everything exists for a reason. That goes for most things in life, and the color of our foods is no exception. So, have you ever wondered why our foods have colors? What do these colors do?
The pigments in fruits and vegetables do have a purpose. For one, the bright hues attract animals that help with seed dispersion. Second, in photosynthetic tissues, they convert solar energy into something "edible" in the plant. Moreover, the pigments act as a natural sunscreen to absorb harmful UV rays and to protect the plant.
Eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables is good for you. Your dinner plate should be a feast of colors, not just a bland monochrome. Foods can come in all colors imaginable, and today, let's turn the spotlight on the color red.
The redness in tomatoes comes from a naturally occurring pigment called lycopene. It is a member of the carotene family, a group of photosynthetic substances that convert sunlight into sugars that plants can utilize. Lycopene is not an essential nutrient for humans, but we eat plenty of it, mostly in tomato-based dishes.
Lycopene is a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants remove the free radicals that come from stress or UV exposure. Lycopene has also been shown to have anti-carcinogenic properties. For the beauty-conscious individual, lycopene can also slow down the process of aging and prevent loss of skin elasticity and discoloration.
Lycopene is best absorbed with a little bit of fat. Tomato soup, pasta pomodoro and tomato salad with extra virgin olive oil are all excellent choices.
Practically a staple fruit in the summer, watermelons are delicious, nutritious and affordable. It is more than 90% water by weight and a significant source of Vitamin C.
The redness of the fruit also comes from lycopene, but it is also a significant source of beta-carotene. It is mildly diuretic, so consumption in large quantities is not highly recommended.
The flesh of watermelons is best consumed as is. The rinds (the whites close to the skin) are also edible. They are sometimes stir-fried or stewed in Chinese dishes, but the most common way to prepare rinds is to pickle them. Simply slice the rinds, then add some salt, sugar and a few drops of sesame oil.
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away." Many have heard this saying from their mothers. While having an apple a day is not enough to completely keep you away from the doctor's office, it is a good move in the right direction. Fresh apples are now available throughout the year. They are easy to carry, easy to munch on, and best of all, very inexpensive.
Apples are a good source of fiber. Soluble fiber can help prevent cholesterol buildup in the blood vessels and reduce the risks of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Insoluble fiber provides bulk in the intestines and helps move food faster down the drain. The good news is, these are both abundant in apples.
Apples are also a good source of iron. Iron is an essential nutrient found in our red blood cells. Red blood cells carry and deliver oxygen to every corner in the human body. Iron deficiency can cause a decreased red blood cell count, and possibly cause anemia and fatigue.
The best way to have apples (be it Fuji or Granny Smith) is to eat them with their skin intact. Most of the vitamin C is right below the skin. Eating the skin can also maximize fiber intake. Take care to wash the apples thoroughly or soak them in water for 30 minutes to fully remove pesticide buildup.
Red bell peppers
What's not to love about them? Colorful, crunchy, sweet and nutritional. Yummy both when raw and cooked (stuffed, baked, roasted, stir-fried, you name it), bell peppers are really one of the most wholesome vegetables out there.
Bell peppers are packed with nutrients and contain minimal fat and cholesterol. They are a good source of Vitamin A, C and E, all potent antioxidants. They are also rich in Vitamin K and folate, or folic acid.
Vitamin K helps regulate blood coagulation and bone metabolism. Folate is very important during infancy and pregnancy since our bodies need it to synthesize DNA. An adequate intake of folate during the early stages of pregnancy is essential for healthy infant development.
The best way to consume bell peppers is to eat it raw. Use it in salads or as veggie sticks.
Dates (the fruit, not the ones you go out on with your love interest) are often seen in Chinese recipes, especially those that use some sort of Chinese medicine. Often available in the dry form at grocery stores, these small red fruits are more nutritious than you think.
Dates are a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin Bs and Vitamin A. It is also rich in dietary fiber. Dates also contain an abundant amount of potassium, a key element in neurological activities.
Packed with antioxidants, dates are often added to chicken soups and desserts. For a simple Chinese dessert, heat 10g of dates, 10g of wolfberry and 50g of soaked white wood ear (an edible fungus) until it boils, then simmer on low heat for 1 hour. Sweeten to taste before serving.
There are plenty of other red fruits and vegetables out there, including strawberries, pink grapefruits, pomegranates and radishes. Eat plenty of them to keep your cells, heart and skin healthy.
A healthy life starts with healthy food. Bon appétit!