Ever shop with a two-year-old? What, were you crazy? Their arms are longer than they look, aren’t they? Watch what little kids reach for in the store. Or watch what interests you when you’re hungriest. Usually it will be packaged in red, chartreuse, orange, yellow, green. Why? It isn’t just Madison Avenue that’s getting under your brain. It’s skillions of years of programming.
We human animals seek out and devour carotenoids. Left to our own devices, we can’t get enough of them. Carotenoids are the compounds that make real food the color of today’s food packaging.
The pigments are themselves powerful antioxidants, and work to neutralize free radicals, the destructive little dervishes that will rob perfectly healthy cells of their electrons when they’re not looking. Antioxidants freely hand over their electrons, and stop the damage. We’re talking about the lycopene that makes tomatoes red. The carotenes in your carrots. There are hundreds of these substances that are found in foods we’ve eaten throughout our history, and we know that they have can help us prevent certain diseases and general bodily meltdown.
Here’s what we know: Folks who eat red, yellow, green regularly, daily — pumpkins, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, oranges, watermelons, red peppers, spinach, kale, etc. — are less likely to die from heart disease and certain cancers, and suffer less with macular degeneration, and are set up to avoid a whole host of other diseases, but cancer and heart disease are the biggies. That is, they age more gracefully and live longer.
Which carotenoids are good for preventing what diseases? That’s one of the games of current nutritional scientists and supplement makers. We’ve been able to research and understand only a small percentage of these carotenoids so far. We have enough evidence to have developed a deep respect for them all as a group. We know especially that men and boys need their tomatoes to help them avoid prostate cancer.
But our nutritionists and public health officials suggest focusing less on the specific elements, and more on getting as broad a mix of these compounds as possible, in their natural state. We should get 5 to 9 servings of mixed vegetables and fruits. They recommend varying the colors and sources as much as possible.
The genius of food marketers is that they’ve packaged their product to look as if it carries this nutrition our bodies crave. Sadly, they haven’t figured out how to include fruit and veggie nutrition inside the box, bag, or foil wrapper. The good stuff comes with a skin or peel. Drive your two-year old around the produce department, and you’ll notice the same grabbiness.