Nutritionists routinely advise people to "eat from the rainbow," meaning they should consume a range of colorful, richly pigmented foods.
We tout the benefits of eating red, purple, green, orange and so forth because these foods possess distinctive health benefits ranging from cardiovascular protection to boosting energy levels to setting up a potential blockade against cancer.
Of course, some foods don't exactly fit the rainbow paradigm. Some culinary gems are nearly black in color while others are white. I've read of chefs and others taking the black-food concept so far that they've developed recipes composed entirely of near-black ingredients, including rice and beans darkened with squid ink and heirloom varieties of garlic, grains and fruits that are black as night.
On the other hand, I occasionally hear people suggest avoiding white foods. For the most part, they are referring to nutritionally scarce foods made from white flour and white sugar, which tend to elevate blood sugar and weaken blood vessels, promoting diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
One shouldn't take the white-fright advice so far, however, as to avoid white-fleshed fruits and other produce. A recent Dutch study found that consuming white-fleshed produce, including apples and onions, may reduce stroke risk by half.
The researchers, who followed 20,000 heart disease-free adults for 10 years, said white-fleshed foods were better than green, red/purple and orange/yellow ones for reducing stroke likelihood. The researchers attributed some of that risk reduction to quercetin, a compound found in apples and onions. Moreover, they suggested that adding less than 1 ounce per day — 25 grams — of these foods reduces stroke risk by nearly 10 percent. Though study subjects indicated that more than half the white foods they ate were apples and pears, they also included bananas, cauliflower, cucumber and chicory.
Though most of us won't consume chicory unless we're drinking coffee in New Orleans, where historically it has been roasted and added to stretch out scarce coffee supplies, we still can eat a range of seasonal, local, white-fleshed produce. We also can engage in a range of other heart-healthy behaviors such as exercise, stress reduction and proper risk assessment through a yearly checkup.
An equal-opportunity food-color consumer ought to remember that white has might, but don't forget the power of black and the healthful strength of all the colors in between.
Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness and teaches at Southern Oregon University. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.