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What Color Is Your Diet?

What It Is

What Color Is Your Diet? is a diet for health, especially cancer prevention. It's not specifically a weight-loss diet. But as it warns against sugars and fats, promotes exercise, and encourages sensible portions of healthy foods, a person following the diet would eventually lose excess weight.

What Color Is Your Diet? author David Heber, MD, PhD, is no lightweight in terms of academic credentials. He's the founding director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition.

What You Can Eat

If its natural color is intense, it's on the menu. We're talking red tomatoes here, not red meat. The basic idea is to eat a lot of different vegetables and fruits -- about a pound a day.

On the menu:

  • Soy
  • White poultry meat
  • Egg whites
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Olive and avocado oils

Off the menu:

  • High-fat red meats
  • Whole eggs
  • Farmed salmon
  • Butter and margarine

How It Works

The idea is that colors don't just make food pretty. They are there because specific nutrients have specific colors. The deeper the color of a food, the more of that kind of nutrient it has.

Here's the basic rundown of Heber's "Color Code" system:

Red. These foods are rich in lycopene, which reduces cancer risk. Examples: tomatoes, watermelons, and pink grapefruit. Red/Purple. Grapes, red wine, blueberries, strawberries, and red apples Orange. These foods contain alpha- and beta-carotenes, thought to improve cell-to-cell communication and slow cancer. Examples: carrots, mangoes, winter squash, and sweet potatoes. Orange/Yellow. These foods contain vitamin C, which protects cells, and beta-cryptoxanthin, one of the many carotenoid compounds that Heber recommends. Examples: oranges, tangerines, papayas, and nectarines. Yellow/Green. These foods are rich sources of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which contribute to eye health. Examples: spinach and other greens, yellow corn, green peas, and avocados. Green. These foods contain sulforaphane, isothiocyanate, and indoles, which Heber says stimulate liver genes to make compounds that break down cancer-causing chemicals. Examples: broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choi, and kale. White/Green. These foods contain flavonoids that protect cell membranes. Examples: onions, garlic, celery, pears, white whine, endive, and chives.

What the Experts Say

"When it comes to diet, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts," David R. Jacobs, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told WebMD in a 2001 interview. "There may be nutrients in food that we don't even know about yet, and the effect of different nutrients working together may be better than each one working alone."

Heber is a respected researcher. A wide range of nutritionists endorse his recommendation that people eat a lot of different vegetables and fruits.

Food for Thought

Eating too much of anything -- even colorful vegetables -- is not healthy eating. But most Americans won't have trouble eating with eating too much of these healthy foods. Note that Heber forbids drenching these foods in butter or margarine, preferring modest amounts of olive oil or avocado oil instead.

For those intimidated by eating five to nine portions of vegetables and fruits a day, try starting slow. Add some bananas and strawberries to your breakfast oatmeal. Opt for a colorful salad as a side dish instead of potatoes or pasta. And speaking of salads, start with deep green and/or red lettuces and use your imagination to add colorful items such as grapes, berries, and orange slices.

Reviewed By Charlotte E. Grayson, MD February 2004.

SOURCES: Heber, D. What Color Is Your Diet?, 2002, Regan Books. David R. Jacobs, PhD, professor of epidemiology, the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

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Last Editorial Review: 5/10/2005