Eat Your Colors

Vibrant Food for Vibrant Health

I was recently watching a Michael Pollan discussion online and he brought up a topic I thought interesting enough to share. I did some research to make sure my facts were correct, but nothing here is really an original thought.  No matter, the topic made me pause for a moment and it’s worth repeating because I think it’s important to consider when we are walking through the aisles of our grocery stores.

So much of our discussion on food these days revolves around not the food itself, but the nutrients in the food. We don’t talk about meat, oranges or bread; we talk about protein, vitamin C and fiber. Foods to so many Americans have simply become a vehicle to getting a particular set of nutrients. We eat meat to get protein, we eat oranges to get Vitamin C, and we eat bread for the fiber. We’re a country filled with nutrition scientists and have turned eating a meal into a mini science experiment. This thought process has not only taken the joy out of eating for so many people, but it is also grounded in a science that is changing every day.  To understand this more, let’s look a bit into the history of nutrition.  

Justus von Leibig, a German chemist who some consider to be the founder of organic chemistry, made an incredible discovery circa 1840.  He was the first to break down food into the three holy trinity nutrients: carbohydrates, fats and protein. After learning this he figured that humans could live well and be healthy so long as they could get these three nutrients.  Seems logical enough, right?  Not so fast. He made baby formula (the first ever) with these three basic nutrients and began feeding it to orphaned children. Unfortunately, these children were getting sick and dying at far higher rates than the children being breastfed. What his analysis missed was the fact that foods not only contain carbohydrates, fats and proteins, but also vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc. The science was simply not advanced enough at the time to know otherwise.

Fast-forward and think about the last 30 years. The 80’s started with the revelation that fat was the devil. Then scientists found that it wasn’t fat that was the problem, but saturated fat specifically.  And all of a sudden today we have good fats!  Eat your omega fatty acids.  But wait, omega 3’s are good and omega 6’s are bad.  Or is it the opposite? I can never remember.

The point is that nutrition science is changing every day. Some have even argued that nutrition science today is akin to surgery in about 1650. We’ve only scratched the surface of what we know about food and how it reacts in our body.  What do we know? That a fresh orange is good for you, and we don’t need a scientist to tell us that. We also know that nutrients are best absorbed through food!  In fact, many nutrients when removed from food are of no use to us.

Food doesn’t need to be that complicated. Michael Pollan mentioned in this discussion that he heard about a Grandmother who simply used to say, “Eat your colors.” Grandma didn’t know that colorful foods are polyphenol-rich, which is to say that they are filled with antioxidants, a recently discovered (of course) “life saving” nutrient. She just knew that eating fruits, vegetables, grains, and all the colorful foods the earth has to offer is good for you. 

So let your next meal be about enjoying the company you’re with and just plain “eating your colors”.  Don’t worry about if you’re getting enough fiber or if there’s too much fat in it or if it has Vitamin C. Have a colorful plate full of fresh food and remember that Grandma approves of your meal.

And remember, Grandma wasn’t a scientist, but I heard she lived a long, happy and healthy life.