Black Is The New Green In Super Foods
How many times have you been told to include dark leafy greens in your diet, or get more greens for good health? The brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as scarlet tomatoes and verdant spinach traditionally get loads of the attention when considering the nutrition content of your diet. More color, more nutrition, right?
But, have you ever been told to increase the black foods in your diet? Well I am a dietitian of over 20 years, and even I was surprised to hear the term “black foods”. So I started doing a little research and was excited to learn about the powerhouse of nutrition in black foods, i.e., dark fruits, veggies, and grains. Their color comes from anthocyanins, which are plant pigments that may help lower the risks of some diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Not only are they loaded with nutrition, but chefs seem to be turning to this chic shade to infuse excitement into their meals.
So let’s talk nutrition. These anthocyanins are a class of flavonoids found in the dark plants. They are the same ones which lend blueberries their deep blue color. According to experts, they protect the plant against oxidation, pests, and harmful UV radiation. That sounds cool. If they protect the plant that much, surely they must offer some protection for us. And in fact they do! Research has shown that anthocyanins act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, and ward off the development of chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
There is more. Many black foods contain other phytochemicals such as the polyphenols found in black tea and dark chocolate that offer those same antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Some experts believe the levels of these disease fighting antioxidants are higher in black foods then in their paler counterparts. Cy Lee, Ph.D., a professor of food chemistry at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, makes this statement, “black foods have more antioxidants than light-colored foods because of their high pigment content.”
We have been told for years that brown rice is better for us than white rice, but black rice is world class in comparison. That’s because the bran hull of the black rice contains significantly higher amounts of vitamin E, which bolsters the immune system and protects cells from free radical damage. In fact, black rice contains more anthocyanin antioxidants than blueberries, according to a study from the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center. Black lentils are legumes and are loaded with iron. One cup has about 8 milligrams, providing us with almost half of the daily requirement of 18 milligrams for women. Lentils also possess high levels of soluble fiber–long known to impact cholesterol and may even improve immune function, according to a recent University of Illinois study.
So if you want to spice up your meals or snacks with a little more drama, try some or all of these ideas. Top salads and wraps with black beans, black garlic or black olives; switch to black rice or black lentils as a side dish; use black quinoa in pilafs; sip on black tea or espresso. For an unconventional trail mix, try blackberries and/or black raspberries mixed with black popcorn, black sesame seeds, black currants and/or black walnuts and throw in some dark chocolate chip pieces for a little added pizzazz.
Can't find one of these deep-hued super foods at your local supermarket? Try natural-foods stores and ethnic groceries, and let your meals and snacks dazzle!