In an earlier post, we introduced the PLATE OF MANY COLORS, a concept to help guide you in making smart, healthy nutrition choices. The point is to move away from BROWN—the color of fried foods and other fast-food fare—and open your eyes, your mind, and your mouth to a more colorful array of foods.
Today we’re continuing our colorful series by focusing on the color ORANGE.
Because we see it so rarely, the color ORANGE is almost always a surprise. It represents adventure and novelty, and seeing it inspires feelings of friendliness and enthusiasm—all excellent qualities to evoke at mealtimes!
Why ORANGE is Outstanding
In addition to giving your kitchen a pleasing pop of color, orange foods bring several important nutrients to the table—namely vitamins A, B6, and C.
Vitamin A helps our bodies build bones, multiply cells, heal wounds, and fight illness. It’s also essential for maintaining good eyesight, especially at night. Research shows that a diet rich in vitamin A reduces the risk of developing eye problems like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, and some studies suggest a diet rich in vitamin A may also help reduce the risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer and colon cancer.
Our bodies create vitamin A from carotenoids, the pigmentary plant chemicals that give orange fruits and vegetables their vibrant color. (We also derive vitamin A in the form of retinoids, but these are only available from certain animal sources, like beef liver and fish oil.) Among these pigments, the primary source of vitamin A is beta-carotene.
There are 8 B-vitamins total, and together they help the body convert food into energy and keep the nervous system functioning optimally. In particular, vitamin B6—also known as pyridoxine—aids in the production of key hormones and neurotransmitters responsible for promoting healthy sleep patterns and maintaining a stable, positive mood. The body also uses B6 to produce new red blood cells and to control levels of homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood that is correlated with blood clots, heart disease, and stroke.
Our cells are constantly undergoing damage from free radicals, natural but harmful byproducts of our bodies’ own biochemical processes. Some scientists theorize that free radicals cause the aging process, and there is growing evidence that damage done by free radicals may contribute to the development of diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and certain kinds of heart disease. This damage can be counteracted with the help of substances called antioxidants, which neutralize the destructive properties of free radicals.
You can boost your body’s free radical defense system by including antioxidant-rich foods in your diet. Vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidants found in food, and it’s also needed to manufacture and repair all the structures that make up your body—including your skin, ligaments, bones, cartilage, and teeth. Without vitamin C, your body couldn’t heal wounds, form scar tissue, or absorb iron from your diet. (Fortunately for you, orange fruits are especially high in vitamin C!)
The ORANGE Oscars
Now that we’ve identified the three major nutrients orange foods have to offer, let’s take the opportunity to give our orange all-stars a standing ovation. Here’s our list of nominees, all the orange foods that are as delightful to the tongue as they are to the eyes:
Fruits: Apricot, cantaloupe, nectarine, orange, papaya, peach, persimmon, tangerine
Veggies: Carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato
The Oscar for Best Vitamin A and Vitamin B6 Option Goes To…
The sweet potato. Sweet potatoes have the highest B6 content of any fruit or vegetable, and a single sweet potato contains enough beta-carotene to meet 30-50% of your daily vitamin A needs. Plus, sweet potatoes contain plant chemicals that help fight inflammation in the human body, and their high fiber content slows the digestive process and reduces their impact on blood sugar levels, making them a great source of carbohydrates for diabetics.
Beta-carotene is a fat-soluble nutrient, which means the body absorbs it better when it’s consumed along with a small amount (3-5 grams) of dietary fat. Try steaming your sweet potatoes and drizzling them with garlic and olive oil, or bake one and top it with cinnamon and a tablespoon of butter. For maximum beta-carotene absorption, be sure to eat the skin, too!
The Oscar for Best Vitamin C Option Goes To…
Papayas. Yellow on the outside but with orange inner flesh, papayas are a type of melon grown in Hawaii (but still usually available at your local grocery store). One papaya contains three times as much vitamin C as an orange. Not only that, but papayas contain other antioxidants and unique enzymes that reduce inflammation in the body, helping ease the symptoms of inflammatory diseases like asthma and arthritis.
For the ultimate vitamin C boost, make a fruit salad from papayas, oranges, guavas, and cantaloupe and snack on it throughout the week.
The Oscar for Best Supporting Role in Heart Health Goes To…
Carrots. The recent results of a 10-year research study performed in the Netherlands show that yellow and orange foods are the most effective at lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, and that carrots in particular have the biggest impact on risk reduction. In addition, some early studies have shown an association between carrot consumption and reduced risk of colon cancer. Chock-full of beneficial carotenoids, carrots are also an excellent source of vitamin A.
Steaming your carrots rather than boiling them will preserve more of their vital nutrients, and it will make them taste better, too. To further improve the taste, drizzle them with honey or toss them with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and pepper.
Go Big Orange!
You don’t have to be a UT fan to celebrate this marvelous color—as long as you’re outgoing and can appreciate a little adventure, the whole oeuvre of ORANGE is open to you! If you’re in the mood for even more lively color, check out our previous posts on GREEN and RED foods here and here.
Orange you glad you stopped by? We certainly are! Join us again next week, when we’ll explain exactly why you should listen to your mother when it comes to making food choices.