Painting a Picture of Health on Your Plate

Turn meals into a colorful canvas “to be the best version of you”

If you want to eat healthy, think like Picasso.

The great Spanish artist saw the world as an explosion of color, a palette of possibilities to choose from. And, he filled every canvas with a vibrant mix. (Except for that depressing Blue Period, but that’s another story.)

If you want to eat right, you should, too. Let the plate be your canvas, and let your food be your paint.

Or, as registered dietitian Cara Axelrod puts it: “Eat the rainbow. Often.”

Axelrod works with the UHealth Human Performance powered by EXOS program at The Lennar Foundation Medical Center. She advises everyone from regular working folks to professional athletes on how to properly fuel their bodies – with an emphasis on “properly.”

“The reason behind eating all the different colors,” she says, “is that each color coordinates with a different benefit for the body.”

THE PLATE-PAINTING PALETTE

Naturally, part of your canvas – er, plate – gets a splash of brown, beige, or red. That’s the protein. “The fewer legs the better,” says Axelrod. That means fish (legless, obviously) is best, two-legged types like chicken and turkey come next, followed by four-legged varieties like cows.

Those feed your muscles and should take up about a quarter of your plate.

Then there’s the carbs. Those get a bad rap, says Axelrod, but they’re actually the primary fuel for the brain and they provide energy for high-intensity activities. Just don’t overdo it. Stick with whole grains, though, like quinoa, oats, and brown rice – beige things, primarily. And keep them to about a quarter of your plate, as well.

BRIGHT AND BOLD IS BEST

Half or more of the rest of your canvas gets the bold and brilliant colors, thanks to Mother Nature’s full-flavored crayon box, the fruits and vegetables. Ideally, Axelrod says, you want “bright, deep colors.” And, with a rhyme that should easily become your inner, good-eating jingle, she adds:

“Three colors on a plate is great.”

Why? Because color variety equals benefit variety.

  • Red – cherries, beets, tomatoes, and the like — foster heart and lung health.
  • Deep blue and purple, like blueberries, plums, and eggplants – brain, heart and cellular health.
  • Orange – oranges (Duh!), carrots, and sweet potatoes – skin and eye health. (How do you think Bugs Bunny could spot Elmer Fudd from so far off?)
  • Yellow and green, things like broccoli, spinach, and pineapple – eye and bone health.
  • And white – garlic, onions, and cauliflower – immune system.

You also want some healthy fats – from olive or canola oil, avocados, or nuts. But only a little. Very little.

EYE “CANDY”

The result: A feast for the eyes that’s great for the body. Best of all, she says, painting your plate with an artist’s eye is not a diet, it’s a flavorful, filling, and healthy lifestyle.“It’s a mindset,” she says. “It’s not to punish you, or to take away your favorite foods. It’s to be the best you.”

diet and nutrition
Paint Your Plate Infographic