There’s a lot of emphasis on eating a colorful selection of foods and for good reason: If you eat a wide variety of colors in your diet, you will get a wide variety of nutrients.
But that doesn’t mean if a food lacks color, it lacks nutrients. Quite the contrary — a number of white foods are worthy of our attention. Here’s my list of favorite white-colored foods along with what makes them a healthy choice and how to best prepare them:
Mushrooms: They’re low in calories, sodium, fat, and cholesterol and a great source of riboflavin, vitamin D, and selenium, which may help prevent coronary heart disease by lowering inflammation, increasing blood flow, and decreasing oxidative stress. A serving of mushrooms provides 30 percent of the daily recommended amount of selenium. Mushroom's unique texture and nutritional value make them a great meat substitute. To maximize nutritional value, sauté for a few minutes, and avoid over-cooking. Serve grilled as a side dish or in soups, sandwiches, or salads.
Garbanzo beans: Like other legumes, garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas) are an excellent source of dietary fiber — 1 cup of garbanzo beans provides half the recommended dietary fiber for 1 day. Fiber helps with weight loss as well as controls blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Garbanzo beans can promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria, helping with digestion. These legumes are also a great source of protein and are rich in magnesium, potassium, and iron. Toss them in salads and soups or puree them to make hummus.
Greek yogurt: Greek yogurt provides a good amount of calcium and protein. In fact, most Greek yogurts have twice the protein of regular yogurts. It also provides vitamin D, riboflavin, phosphorus, and potassium. Greek yogurt contains probiotics, or "healthy bacteria" that’s associated with improved digestion and other health benefits. Its thick and creamy texture makes it an ideal recipe substitute for mayo or sour cream. Be sure the Greek yogurt you choose contains "live active cultures" and minimal added sugars.
Garlic and onions: Garlic and onions have been long recognized for their antimicrobial properties, but did you know that they are also great for your heart? They contain allicin and allinin, which may help improve blood pressure and lower total and LDL cholesterol levels. Add raw or cooked onions and garlic to salads, soups, and dressings. To maximize its health benefits, eat garlic raw.
Cauliflower: Like other cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower is a great source of vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and fiber. In fact, 1 cup of cauliflower provides three-fourths of daily recommended amounts for vitamin C. To preserve its nutrients, steam or roast instead of boiling and add flavor with turmeric or any of your favorite spices.
Turnips: With only 30 calories per cup and offering 30 percent of the daily recommended vitamin C, turnips are a healthy root vegetable. They add crunch and texture to your meals. Add them to salads, soup, curries, and stews. The leafy green part of the plant is also edible and packed with its own nutritious benefits.
Pears: Pears are rich in fiber, vitamin C, and copper, and they are a great source of flavonoids, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory factor. Pears are naturally sweet and can be eaten plain or add some to a salad for texture and flavor. Be sure to eat the skin because it contains 3 to 4 times more phytonutrients and the majority of the pear’s fiber.
Tofu: Made from soybeans, tofu has been associated with a decrease in cancer risk. Choose organic calcium-fortified tofu, as a good source of calcium, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids. A serving of tofu (about 4 ounces) contains 17 grams of protein, making it a great meat substitute. Replacing meat with tofu can help decrease your intake of cholesterol and saturated fat, which can help lower your risk of heart disease. Try using fermented soy products such as nato, miso, or tempeh as the fermentation process increases digestibility and nutrient absorption. Because of its smoother texture, soft tofu is best suited for making sauces, dips, and desserts. Firm or extra firm tofu can be stir-fried, baked, or grilled.
Potatoes: Available year-round, potatoes provide 46 percent of the recommended daily amount of potassium, which has been shown to help control blood pressure. In addition, potatoes contain resistant starch, sometimes referred to as prebiotics. Resistant starch is not broken down in the small intestine but instead feeds your body’s healthy bacteria, contributing to a healthy microbiome. Studies have shown that resistant starch may also help prevent cancer, lower inflammation, and better control blood sugar. To make sure you obtain the maximum health benefits, bake, roast, or simply add to your favorite soup or casserole. Eat the skin because it contains the potato’s highest concentration of potassium and fiber.
For optimal health, eat a variety of whole unprocessed foods in their most natural states. Regardless of their color, whole unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that work together to help keep us healthy.
Contributor: Silvia Delgado, RD