Eat Healthy With a Rainbow of Foods Each Day
It Began In a Carpool
In 1996 James Joseph and Ronald Prior were working for the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Human Nutrition Research Center. And they carpooled together.
If you have ever shared a ride with co-workers, you probably know that conversation to and from the workplace typically centers on current news, the weather, whatever sport is in season, pets, or children. (Hot-button topics like religion and politics are best saved for Facebook).
But Drs. Joseph and Prior talked about work. One lively discussion centered on the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbency Capacity) test, a test that measures antioxidant activity in body tissues.
That discussion gave birth to an idea; Dr. Prior began to study antioxidant levels not in the body but in the foods we eat. In a nutshell (no pun intended), this is what he found:
It turns out the fruits and vegetables with the highest ORAC levels were the most colorful.— Ronald Prior, PhD, chemist and nutritionist
What is an Antioxidant?
That’s a good question. First break the word down into two parts; anti means “against” and then there is “oxidant” You might be thinking “oxygen, that’s good.” But consider the word “oxidation.” Oxidation is what happens when sliced apples turn brown, aluminum screen doors become pitted, and car parts rust.
Anti (against) oxidants (rusting) help keep you from getting “rusty.” In other words, they can slow the aging process. Think of them as first-responders, rushing in, sacrificing themselves to save your healthy tissue cells from damage.
So, What Does This All Mean?
Place orange-colored foods on your plate (apricots, carrots), and you are tapping into the carotenoid, beta-carotene, one of the most powerful antioxidants. A touch of purple (blueberries, eggplant) will give you three more disease-fighting nutrients (ellagitannins, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanidins). Red tomatoes will benefit your heart with lycopene.
The names of these powerhouse nutrition boosters are difficult to pronounce (and understand), but you don’t need to be a chemist to add them to your diet.
A Brief (But Important) Glossary
- Anthocyanin – a blue-tinted flavonoid that boots memory and promotes healthy aging
- Carotenoid – a phytonutrient that provides the vivid color to the yellow/orange fruits and vegetables; our body uses these compounds to produce Vitamin A
- Ellagitannin – an antioxidant found in grapes and berries
- Flavonoid – a phytonutrient that serves to maintain heart health and support brain function
- Lutein – a carotenoid that promotes good eye health
- Phytonutrients – natural, plant-based compounds
- Proanthocyanidin – another flavonoid that promotes heart health
Plants were here long before us, and they've evolved ways to protect themselves against pathogenic disease and oxidative stress. These same phytonutrients can exert beneficial effects in people too."— Navindra Seeram, PhD, antioxidant researcher at UCLA
Red-hued fruits and vegetables contain lycopene. Studies indicate that diets rich in in this compound could inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
- red bell peppers
- red grapes
Orange and yellow produce contains carotenoids such as beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, flavonoids, and Vitamin C. Studies show that these may help protect against age-related eye disease.
- butternut squash
Green-hued produce is a powerhouse of antioxidants; beta-carotenem lutein, zeaxanthinm indoles, and isothiocyanates. They're hard to say, but easy to add to your daily diet. Several studies show that they can protect against eye ailments and may play a role in keeping the carotid arteries free of plaque.
- Brussels sprouts
- green beans
- green cabbage
- leafy greens
The antioxidants in blue and purple foods can ease inflammation, benefit motor function, and improve memory, targeting the hippocampus area of the brain.
- purple potatoes
Although white and tan are not colors of the rainbow I would be remiss to ignore the antioxidant-rich foods that are not a part of the prism. Just one or two cups of cauliflower can protect against oxidative stressors.
I have used bold type to identify which ingredients in each recipe are rich in antioxidants.
Superfood Salad with Blueberry Lemon Vinaigrette
- For the Salad:
- 6 cups arugula (or your favorite greens)
- 3/4 cup blueberries
- 3/4 cup raspberries
- 1 avocado, sliced
- 1/2 cup chopped red onion
- 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
- For the Dressing:
- 3/4 cup avocado or olive oil (divided)
- 1/2 cup blueberries
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- ½ teaspoon salt (+ more to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- In a large bowl, pile in your greens (make sure they are rinsed) into the bowl. Now top with berries, avocado, and red onion.
- Make your dressing: begin by adding in 1/4 cup avocado or olive oil, blueberries, lemon, lemon zest, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, and basil. Pulse in a food processor or high powered blender for 1 minute. After 1 minute, while motor is running, pour in remaining oil. Continue to pulse until dressing is well combined, and blueberries are completely incorporated.
- Toss dressing onto the salad (you may not use all of it and have extra), and carefully toss all ingredients of the salad with the dressing.
- Finally, top with walnuts and serve.
Chopped Broccoli Salad with Walnuts, Cranberries, and Balsamic
- 2 bunches broccoli about 1.25 lbs.
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar a good, aged vinegar
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons smooth almond or peanut butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons dry roasted pumpkin seeds
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries
- 3/4 cup walnuts coarsely chopped
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
- Place walnuts on a baking sheet and bake for 4-6 minutes.
For the Broccoli:
- Fill a large pot with enough water to completely immerse both heads of broccoli. Bring water to a boil.
- Fill a separate, large bowl with water and ice.
- Place both bunches of broccoli into boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Remove broccoli, (Carefully! It will be hot!) and blanch it by immersing each bunch into ice water for 30 seconds.
- Set broccoli aside to let cool. Once it has cooled enough for you to safely handle, coarsely chop broccoli and remove stems.
- Place chopped broccoli into a large serving bowl.
For the Balsamic Sauce:
- Combine balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, nut butter, olive oil and salt in a small bowl.
- Microwave ingredients for 20-30 seconds or until nut butter becomes smooth. Whisk to combine.
For the Assembly:
- Just before serving, pour balsamic sauce over chopped broccoli and sprinkle with walnuts, pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries.
- Salad tastes great served warm or cold!
- Important Note: If you would like to serve your salad cold, refrigerate broccoli (without balsamic sauce) until it is to your desired temperature. Make balsamic sauce just before serving. If sauce is poured over broccoli and then refrigerated, the broccoli will become very mushy and no longer crisp!
Triple Berry Smoothy
- 1 cup frozen strawberries
- 3/4 cup frozen raspberries
- 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
- 2 kiwifruit peeled and sliced
- 1 cup orange juice
- Place the frozen berries in the blender and let them thaw for about 10 minutes.
- Add the kiwifruit and the orange juice and blend on high until smooth.
- Top with more kiwi or berries if desired.
Easy Tex Mex Pasta Salad
- 1 package (12 ounces) bowtie noodles
- 1 can roasted corn
- 1 can black beans
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 2 large avocados
- 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
- Optional: queso fresco cheese, fresh lime
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend
- 1/8 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, optional
- Salt and pepper to taste
- To prepare the dressing, add all of the ingredients to a blender or food processor and pulse until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. If making this ahead of time (recommended, see note) store in the fridge.
- Prepare the noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse in cold water for about 30 seconds. Drain well.
- Toss with a few tablespoons of the prepared dressing (make it while the pasta is cooking) and place in the fridge to chill.
- Drain the roasted corn. Drain and rinse the black beans.
- Halve the cherry tomatoes. Remove the skin and pit of the avocado and chop. Coarsely chop the cilantro.
- Toss all the salad ingredients together.
- Toss with the salad dressing and enjoy if desired with crumbled queso fresco and a squeeze of fresh lime.
Sweet and Savory Three-Rice Salad
Ingredients for Salad
- 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
- 2 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
- 1 cup cooked wild rice
- 1 cup cooked white rice
- 4 strips bacon, turkey bacon, or vegetarian "bacon", cooked crisp and chopped
- 1/2 cup sliced green onions (white bulb and the green tops)
- 3/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Ingredients for Dressing
- 1/2 cup salad oil
- 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon white (granulated) sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Squeeze the thawed spinach to remove as much water as possible. Place spinach in large mixing bowl and "fluff up" with fork or fingers to loosen so that it will be easier to mix with the remaining ingredients.
- Add cooked rices, bacon, onion, dried cranberries and almonds in mixing bowl with spinach. Toss gently to combine.
- Place all salad dressing ingredients in jar with screw-on lid. Shake to combine. Pour dressing over salad and toss again to coat evenly with dressing.
- Cover and chill at least 3 hours.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Linda Lum