Food Rainbow

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As an educator around the ethics of food, my message for eating compassionately is simple: make choices that reflect your own values of compassion and kindness. When it comes to eating healthfully, my message is equally simple: eat by color.

After all, the greatest number of healthful compounds can be found in the most colorful foods. The pigments that give fruits, vegetables and flowers their distinctive hues are called phytochemicals, and we can detect the highest concentration of the different phytochemicals just by looking at their color:

Anthocyanins that make blueberries blue.

Beta-carotene that makes carrots orange.

Folate that makes kale green.


Lutein that makes corn yellow.

More than 900 different phytochemicals have been identified, and hundreds more are still undiscovered. Although phytochemicals are not technically classified as nutrients, they've been identified as containing properties, such as antioxidants, that appear to play a role in disease prevention and treatment, particularly those related to cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

And remember: there are no naturally occurring phytochemicals in meat, fish, dairy or eggs. Phyto, after all, means "plant." It's only when animals eat plants that they take in these and other nutrients. Cattle get calcium and protein from the grass and foliage they eat; salmon turn pink from the plant-eating animals they eat; and egg yolks turn yellow from the lutein-rich plants the chickens eat, and from the synthetic lutein added to their feed.

By going directly to the plants, we skip the unnecessary and unhealthful animal-based saturated fat, animal protein, lactose, and dietary cholesterol, all of which work against the benefits of the fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants prevalent and inherent in plants.

By painting our diets with a rainbow palette of plant foods -- including black mushrooms, beige nuts and seeds, white garlic, brown grains -- we are guaranteed to be eating the most nutrient-rich, flavor-dense, aesthetically pleasing humane diet possible.

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.