We’ve probably all been told to eat a healthy and varied diet but what does that actually mean?
In a recent review of research articles about nutrition and health, one of the clues was that eating a larger variety of vegetables and fruits can lead to a reduced risk of a number of common diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, a theory called the Five Phases has been used for thousands of years to analyze the human body and health but can also be used to examine food as well.
The first common method of categorizing foods according to the Five Phases is by their flavours and a healthy balanced diet should try to incorporate all of them. The five flavours, along with some examples are:
- Sour – lemons, limes, berries, sauerkraut
- Bitter – salad greens, arugula, dandelion greens, burdock root
- Sweet – potatoes, yams, legumes, most fruit
- Pungent – garlic, onions, ginger, radishes, turnips
- Salty – seaweeds such as nori, wakame, and kombu, sea salt, miso paste
Each flavour is described as having a specific type of action within the body as well as linked to a particular organ. For example, the sour flavour is astringent and contracting and is most active on the Liver meridian system and so lemon water, with its sour properties, is a drink commonly used to help support liver health.
Another way of categorizing foods according to the Five Phases is by their colours with again trying to consistently eat some of each in our diet:
- Green – dark leafy greens, broccoli, kale, green peas
- Red – tomatoes, beets, red lentils, kidney beans
- Yellow – yams, squash, carrots, chickpeas
- White – daikon radish, white onions, mushrooms, navy beans
- Black – berries, plums, black beans
It is interesting to note that modern nutrition is also recognizing the importance of eating all of the variously coloured vegetables and fruits. Phytonutrients such as glucosinolates, lycopene, beta-carotene, anthoxanthins, and anthocyanins are all associated with specific colours and so eating the full spectrum can be beneficial to our health.
For a more modern high-tech way of keeping track of the variety of healthy foods in our diet, Dr. Michael Greger from NutritionFacts.org has come up with his Daily Dozen checklist, also available as a free app, and is well worth checking out.
By adding a wider variety of vegetables and fruits into our daily diet, we can experience better health, not to mention enjoy tastier food and more adventurous meals, in our everyday lives.