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Colour Coding Your Diet

by Lauryn McGuiness(more info)

listed in food, originally published in issue 138 - August 2007


What is a balanced diet? Some say it is a combination of foods from each of the food groups. Others say it constitutes eating in moderation. What many of us do not realize is that the healthiest way to eat is by colour coding our diet.

Food is not colourful by accident. There is a reason why apples are red, carrots are orange and peas are green. Believe it or not, it is the ‘colour’ of food that determines its beneficial qualities more so than the ‘type’.

We all know we need to eat certain amounts of fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, dairy products, meat and legumes to maintain optimum health, but which of these foods is best eaten to target particular ailments or feed a lack of a certain vitamin? By colour coding our diet, determining this has never been easier!

The pigmentation in food is created by a group of highly beneficial antioxidants called carotenoids, which eliminate harmful free radicals in the body. The colour of different types of foods indicates the unique job various antioxidants perform in the body. And, regardless of what colour food is, the deeper the hue, the higher the nutrient value.

When we consume foods of one colour we ingest one type of vitamin, or vitamins, which target only one ailment or prevent one from occurring. However, when we consume foods of varying colours, the mixture of antioxidants is most effective. And, it is best to eat a diet containing all the carotenoids.

The ideal combination of colours includes foods which are red, orange, yellow, blue/purple, and white. Consuming a mixture of foods of each of these colours on a daily basis, and at each meal, is strongly advised. We should aim to include green and orange foods as often as possible, and try to eat a variety of foods representing each colour group so the body is ingesting everything it needs on a regular basis.

Red Coloured Foods

Red coloured foods indicate the presence of carotenoid lycopene, a cancer fighting antioxidant commonly found in tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit. Particularly effective in the battle against prostate cancer and cancers of the digestive tract, stomach, and lungs, lycopene works by inhibiting the formation of harmful LDL cholesterol. This fat-soluble substance is more readily available from cooked or juiced tomato, and can be absorbed more efficiently if eaten with some olive oil. The highest levels of lycopene are found in dark red foods including:

Tomato – This anti-cancer, anti-oxidant, and anti-viral food helps to improve the immune response whilst maintaining energy levels. An effective ingredient in the diet of those suffering with cancer or AIDS, tomatoes boost resistance to infectious diseases, encouraging wounds to heal and maintaining the condition of mucous membranes. A small amount of tomato juice can also reduce blood clotting and, therefore, benefit those at risk of cardiovascular disease. Lycopene has also proved to slow neuro-degeneration in animal testing, but can cause adverse reactions to those with food allergies or arthritis.

Sun-dried tomato – This particular type of tomato is effective in the promotion of the health of all cells, especially the nerves, muscles, skin, and mucous membranes. Effective in preventing cancer cells from forming, they can also protect against heart disease, as they contain cournaric and chlorogenic acids, which may help to block cancer-causing nitrous amines.

Beetroot – An anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant, beetroot has been used as a medicinal food for many years. It is effective in the sense that its minerals and phytochemicals resist infection, boost cellular intake of oxygen, and treat blood, liver, and immune system disorders. It stimulates the immune system by improving cell respiration and tissue oxygenation, and does so by encouraging the production of new red blood cells. This, in turn, keeps the heart, muscles, and nerves healthy. Beetroot can also be used to treat cancers, particularly leukaemia, as evidence has suggested that eating beetroot causes some cancer cells to revert to normal or die. Beetroot is also effective in treating skin problems, chronic infections, inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and liver problems.

Green Coloured Foods

Green foods such as cabbage, spinach, broccoli, peas, artichokes, and asparagus contain Isothiocyanates, which cause pre-cancerous cells to destroy themselves. Especially useful in the treatment of colon cancer, this antioxidant gives broccoli and Brussels sprouts their distinctive smell. But, don’t be scared away. The more pungent the food, the more Isothiocyanates present and therefore, the healthier it is for you. Also high in folic acid and sulforaphane, green foods can prevent birth defects such as spina bifida, so is an essential ingredient in the diet of pregnant women. The most chlorophyll-rich green foods are those which are leafy and dark green, but also very beneficial are:

Avocado – Rich in immune-boosting phytochemicals which can prevent cancer and fungal disease. This versatile food can help to stabilize blood fats and maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Highly nutritious due to its elevated levels of nutrients and micro-nutrients, avocado can be useful in the treatment of internal and external yeast infections, as well as providing effective levels of vitamins E and B6, essential fatty acids, and dietary fibre.

Zucchini – High in the anti-oxidant glutathione, a sulphur-containing amino acid vital to the body’s antioxidant defence system, this cucumber-like vegetable helps to eliminate damaging free radicals and peroxide molecules whilst recharging oxidized vitamin C for the body to re-use. Also rich in vitamins B6 and riboflavin, zucchini is effective in aiding a variety of metabolic processes.

Spinach – An anti-microbial digestive stimulant containing high levels of oxalic acid, which can contribute to kidney stones, this leafy green vegetable is only potentially harmful to those with bladder or kidney stones or rheumatoid arthritis. Generally effective due to its ability to stimulate immune response and help protect against heart disease and some cancers of the lung, breast and cervix, spinach is a great source of energy. Its beneficial qualities include aiding normal liver function, regulating blood fat levels, and maintaining healthy skin, blood, muscles, and nerves.

Orange Coloured Foods

Orange foods contain perhaps the most widely recognized carotenoid, beta-carotene. Found in foods such as carrots, oranges, mangoes, pumpkin, apricots, rockmelon, and sweet potato, this major antioxidant is known for its ability to lower cholesterol and convert it to Vitamin A. Also essential to the protection of the skin against free radical damage and the repair of damaged DNA, beta-carotene is an immune-booster aiding in the treatment of many ailments. Containing high levels of vitamin C, orange foods can assist in fighting colds and flus, cystitis, and skin problems, and eating the skins of orange foods is beneficial as they are nearly always packed with nutrients. Like lycopene, beta-carotene is fat soluble, so using a little olive oil will help your body absorb it. Fantastic orange foods include:

Carrot – Aside from one tiny side-effect (excessive consumption of carrot can lead to orange-yellow colouring of the skin); there are only good things to say about carrots. Yes, grandma’s old wives’ tale about them aiding eyesight in the dark is true and, yes, they are a cancer-fighting property. But that’s not all. An antioxidant which is, in fact, actually good for the skin, carrots also support the immune system, aid in wound healing, and can be useful in the treatment of chronic viral infections such as herpes. Also a fierce protector against heart disease, this bright orange food plays a part in regulating blood-sugar levels and, thus, may help protect against diabetes.

Rockmelon/Cantaloupe – With the ability to lower cholesterol, ease stress, and fight cancer, this fresh fruit contains high levels of carotenoids which can also assist in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. Effective in maintaining vitality and aiding the healing of wounds, rockmelon, or cantaloupe, assists in maintaining the health of all body tissues, including the skin. Eating this fruit also enhances the release of energy from other foods.

Yellow Coloured Foods

Yellow foods are very specific in their purpose. Effectively targeted at one area, yellow foods such as corn, bananas, honeydew melon, and yellow capsicum contain zeaxanthin and lutein. Working together to help maintain healthy eyesight, these two carotenoids are utilized in an area of the retina called the macula, the centre for excellent vision. Protecting the eyes from long-term light damage, zeaxanthin and lutein are required on a daily basis to maintain adequate eyesight protection. Eating yellow foods whilst young can ensure healthy eyesight is maintained through adulthood, however, those with suffering vision will still benefit from the effects of eating yellow foods like:

Bananas – A superfood with superior qualities, bananas are the only food containing every vitamin. An anti-stress, energy boosting digestive stimulant, bananas can help to prevent high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. Extremely rich in potassium, this popular fruit can help reduce the risk of stroke, relieve heartburn, prevent stomach ulcers and aid in abating diarrhoea, particularly if eaten whilst the skin is green. Easily digested, bananas are useful in managing gastrointestinal disorders, and can assist in stabilizing blood-sugar levels and promoting healthy skin, hair and bone marrow.

Yellow Vegetables – These cancer-fighting vegetables, including yellow capsicums and squashes, once digested, are converted into vitamin A in the body. Necessary for maintaining healthy epithelial tissue (where 90% of human cancers occur), vitamin A is a valuable ingredient only found elsewhere in much smaller doses.

Purple and Blue Foods

Purple and Blue foods contain the carotenoid anthocyanin, which has remarkable antioxidant properties. Found in blueberries, dark cherries, prunes, blackcurrants, cranberries, red wine, red apples, strawberries and figs, the anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory effect of this antioxidant is useful for tackling urinary tract infections and gastrointestinal upsets. Purple or blue foods also help to prevent the deterioration of nerve cells in the brain, and can potentially assist in guarding against the effects of ageing. It is also suggested that Anthocyanins might have beneficial effects on heart disease by inhibiting blood clots. The best purple or blue foods are:

Blueberries – Containing more antioxidants than any other fruit or vegetable, blueberries are effective in protecting the brain from deteriorating. The anthocyanin and flavonoids found in the tasty fruit suggestively have anti-inflammatory effects and a powerful effect on cognitive behaviour. Scientists have, perhaps most importantly, also found that, by feeding lab rats the human equivalent of one cup of blueberries a day for two months, the fruit triggers the birth of new neurons, making the brain look and act like a younger one.

Violet – Another anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory food, violet leaves and flowers can play a vital role in the management of malignant tumours and may help to inhibit the spread of cancer. A natural expectorant – a mucolytic agent which dissolves thick mucous to help relieve respiratory difficulties – violet leaves and flowers can also be used to treat chronic bronchitis, chronic nasal catarrh, skin problems and arthritis.

White Coloured Foods

White foods such as onions, garlic, celery, pears, white wine, and chives contain flavonoids and allicin, which has been known to inhibit abnormal cell growth. White foods also contain sulphur compounds which assist in raising levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol and lowering dangerous levels of blood fats called triglycerides. Another benefit of white foods is that they can ease the inflammatory response of asthma and can break up catarrh secretions caused by colds and flu. Some of the most beneficial white foods include:

Pears – White on the inside with green exteriors, pears contain a soluble fibre just beneath the skin called pectin. This fibre has many benefits including aiding in the prevention of haemorrhoids, lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of colon cancer, and remedying diarrhoea. Pectin is also useful in binding with cholesterol and bile acids, enhancing their excretion from the body.

Cauliflower – An anti-allergic, anti-cancer property, cauliflower encourages antibody and haemoglobin production, making it an essential ingredient in the diet of anyone suffering from anaemia. A fierce protector against allergies, asthma, migraines and depression, this fantastic vegetable helps to promote healthy skin and mucous membranes. It is also effective in the maintenance of energy levels and the regulation of blood-fat concentration.

Bibliography and Further Reading
Egan A and Ragone R. Meals That Heal: Over 175 Simple, Everyday Recipes that Help Prevent and Treat Disease. Rodale Press. 2001.
Herber D. What Colour Is Your Diet? Harper Collins. 2002.
Joseph JA PhD, Nadeau DA MD and Underwood A. The Colour Code: A Revolutionary Eating Plan for Optimum Health. Hyperion Books. 2002.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Colour your way to 5 a day. April 2003.  
Tufts University. For optimum health, follow the rainbow. September 2001.


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About Lauryn McGuiness

Lauryn McGuiness is a freelance journalist specializing in writing for the health and natural therapies market. Published in five countries including the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Lauryn also writes corporate material for businesses across the globe. She may be contacted via

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