Eating the rainbow for health can vilify cultural foods

Yesou’ve probably heard of the term “eat the rainbow,” and for good reason. The compounds that give plant foods their color also have unique health benefits, so eating a variety of colors means you’re getting a wide range of nutrients. But I’m a dietitian, and that maxim, like so much “conventional wisdom” in nutrition, drives me nuts.

It is true that most Americans could benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables. Currently only about 10% of adults get their five a day. But who said they had to be the colors of the rainbow? Not everything you eat, for health or other reasons, needs to be dynamic. By embracing only the nutritional value of colored foods, white, beige, and brown foods are unnecessarily overlooked (and even demonized). In fact, it portrays a narrow view of what healthy eating can look like. Here’s why beige isn’t boring, bland, or “bad” for your nutrition — and more importantly, how focusing solely on eating the rainbow both makes many cultural foods wicked and whitewashes nutrition.

White fruits and vegetables also contain health-promoting compounds

Although colored pigments seem to get all the health credit (chlorophyll in dark green vegetables, lycopene in bright red tomatoes, anthocyanins in blueberries), white pigments also offer unique health benefits. For example: Anthoxanthins, the pigments that give plants a white or creamy yellow color, are a type of antioxidant with powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Think cauliflower, parsnips, daikon radishes and jicama. A cup of cooked cauliflower will give you more than halfway through your daily vitamin C intake goal, and a cup of raw parsnips contains nearly a quarter of the folic acid most adults need in a day.

Even the sometimes ugly, starchy white vegetables are nutrient-dense. “White Potatoes Are Packed With Fiber And Potassium That We Need Daily,” Says A Registered Dietitian Elizabeth Barnes, MS, RD, owner of Well-being without weight. Fiber, found in all plant-based foods, helps keep your digestive system moving, reduces your risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and may even support your immune system by feeding probiotic bacteria in your gut. And potassium, also found in bananas, is crucial for nerve and muscle function and heart health.

…And they are not alone

Although white fruits and vegetables don’t often take center stage in the healthy eating conversation, most people know they’re nutritious. After all, it’s still fruits and vegetables. Other plant-based white foods, like nuts and seeds, are also widely welcomed by wellness enthusiasts.

The real problem with the “eat the rainbow” philosophy is that it excludes more starchy white and brown foods: rice, bread, tortillas, oatmeal, hominy, and other carbs that many people mistakenly believe shouldn’t. not be staple foods in a healthy diet. madalyn vasquez, MS, RD, CDCES, registered dietitian and diabetes educator, explains that white starches play an important role in health. “Carbohydrates are our body’s preferred source of energy and provide other nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and minerals,” she says. All carbohydrates, whether from a sweet potato or a flour tortilla, provide the body with important energy and nutrients.

Carbohydrates such as beans, whole grains and starches are Also rich in fiber. This fiber aids digestion, helps prevent constipation, and may reduce your risk of certain chronic diseases, Vasquez says. But processed carbs like cereals and packaged baked goods aren’t bad. They are a source of energy and are often fortified with certain essential vitamins and minerals that many people might otherwise be deficient in. Also, we usually eat these foods with other things as part of a meal – bread in a sandwich, rice with vegetables and meat, cereal with fruit and milk, etc. – meaning we get a variety of nutrients overall.

Creamy and cheesy foods aren’t inherently bad either. Of course, a regular diet of creme brulee and queso blanco with tortilla chips is not nutritionally sound. But eating these things sometimes, as part of a varied overall diet, is fine. They are often an excellent source of calcium, which is essential for bone health, as well as heart, nerve and muscle function. And some creamy foods, like yogurt and skyr, are extremely nutritious, being rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and health-promoting probiotic bacteria.

Demonizing white foods isn’t just a bad approach to nutritional science, it’s also culturally insensitive.

Dalina Soto, MA, RD, LDN, registered dietitian and owner of Your Latin Nutritionist, says many of her Latinx clients come to her thinking they need to stop eating rice, beans, tortillas, yuca and other cultural staples to be healthy. Some nutrition professionals and other healthcare providers, she says, consider such traditional Latinx staples like rice, plantains, tostones and tortillas too high in carbs, especially for people with diabetes. type 2. They recommend restricting or eliminating them, instead of taking the time to explain how our bodies process carbohydrates and how to include these elements in a healthy diet. Sometimes, Soto says, it has to do with the language barrier: an English-speaking provider can’t explain the nuances of healthy eating to a Spanish-speaking patient. Without an interpreter in the room, the only way to get information across might be to say something simplistic like “avoid white foods,” or with a handout that lists white foods as those to avoid.

This stereotype demonizes foods that not only have been part of Latin cultures for centuries, but are also inexpensive and quick to prepare. (As opposed to, say, a bowl of cereal with more than six different vegetables, vegan meat, and homemade dressing.) And it has consequences. Soto shares that some people give up on being healthy: “They wonder, what’s the point if they can’t enjoy familiar foods?”

Instead of giving general advice that is doomed to failure, Soto takes a much more individualized approach. “Everyone is so different,” she says. “Even though I work with someone with type 2 diabetes, I talk to them about what really happens when they eat these carbohydrate-rich foods.” (And, she notes, not everyone’s blood sugar levels respond to all carbs in the same way, so an individualized approach is really key.) She talks about ways to keep blood sugar stable. and getting adequate nutrition without completely avoiding staple foods, such as adding carbs, protein, and vegetables alongside high-carb white and beige foods.

Andrew Akhaphong, MS, RD, LD, a grocery dietitian from Mackenthun, explains that in her family’s Laotian culture, which is heavily influenced by Theravada Buddhism, meals are traditionally built around the balance of flavors – sweet, spicy, sour and umami – in relation to nutrition or aesthetics. “It is believed [in Buddhism that] having a balance between these restores the “hot and cold forces,” he explains. While colorful vegetables and herbs are abundant in Lao cuisine, foods like rice and noodles are also important. And in this context, white foods actually provide nutritional balance.

Making good nutrition more accessible means including white and brown foods

Soto, who rarely shares photos of food with his more than 62,000 Instagram followers, thinks social media is fueling the fire of people who believe healthy eating should look a certain way. “There are all these reds, greens and purples,” she says. “Everything is so colorful, and the photography makes it amazing.” Often it can also mean intimidating and unapproachable.

Indeed, colorful foods are visually vibrant, while whites and browns don’t exactly stand out in your diet, especially when they have to compete with cerulean spirulina, pumpkin spice lattes, and purple acai bowls. lively. “We tell you to eat the rainbow because many of these colors contain different vitamins and nutrients,” Soto says. “But you don’t have to throw something green in everything you eat.” It’s okay if some meals and snacks are lacking in color, because less vibrant foods also provide nutrients.

Aesthetics just aren’t a great standard for measuring nutrition. In fact, a diet of only kale salads and smoothie bowls is not healthy at all. As someone who helps adults overcome disordered eating behaviors, I too often see that what starts out as a fairly innocent resolution to “prioritize colored foods” can quickly turn into a decidedly unhealthy obsession with eating. huge amounts of fruits and vegetables and nothing else.

There’s no doubt that eating colorful produce promotes good health, but that’s no reason to exclude other foods from the conversation. White, beige and brown foods – from cauliflower and chickpeas to rice, plantains, lentils, yams, tofu and more – all have their place in a healthy diet. They are nutritious and energizing in their own right, and they are staples in traditional cuisines that are deeply meaningful in ways that transcend their vitamin and mineral composition. Instead of trying to avoid these less colorful foods, think of them as another shade in your healthy eating rainbow, with their own unique texture, flavor, and nutritional benefits.

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Freeda S. Scott