When it comes to food, black is the new black.
When it comes to food, black is the new black.
Black food is in. And we're not talking about your grandmother's fried chicken or Aunt Sadie's peach cobbler. Instead, it seems that with food, the darker it is, the better it is for you.
From forbidden black rice to black tea, black is back…not that it ever really went away. For many cultures, dark-hued foods have long been a diet staple. Like in Latin cooking, count on frijoles negros to be prominent on your plate. We'll never stop loving our kale and collards. But now, "Nutrition Noir" is the hot, sexy culinary trend. Beyond the ever-changing food fads, (please, no more fish foam and caul fat) dark food isn't just a novelty; it's a nutritional powerhouse that's part of a healthy diet.
Americans may be a bit behind the curve in embracing black cuisine, but for centuries, black food has been part of a traditional Asian diet. According to ancient Chinese medicine, dark foods nourish the blood and are considered a tonic for the kidneys that are tied to a person's energy channel. The consumption of black food is believed to revitalize the body, promote healthy organ function and balance and regulate the system. Today it's become a fashionable health food in Japan where upscale menus feature black mushrooms, black soy and black vinegar.
In terms of plant-based foods, those that fall on the darker end of the color spectrum tend to be the healthiest. The benefits come from anthocyanins, the pigments that give fruit and vegetables their deep color, like the blue in blueberries, the purple in eggplants and the near black in blackberries. Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. These free radicals or molecules are byproducts that are produced when the body breaks down food. They are sometimes caused by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and pollution. When they're released into your system, they can damage cells.
Antioxidants also fight the oxidation processes that speed up aging. They are effective in reducing inflammation and guard against heart and neurological diseases. And if that doesn't have you reaching for $4-a-bottle Pom juice, recent studies have identified even more specific benefits of consuming dark-colored food. For example, anthocyanins found in blue corn help slow the spread of human colon cancer cells, and black soybeans, which contain high levels of polyphenols, work like antioxidant-dynamos to neutralize LDL (bad) cholesterol. Perhaps the biggest black buzz is about Açaí (ah-sigh-ee), or "as seen on TV" (Oprah that is). Açai is the high-energy berry of a special Amazon palm tree harvested in the Brazilian rainforest. The deep purple fruit is loaded with antioxidants, amino acids and essential fatty acids and was listed by Oprah's go-to physician, Dr. Nicholas V. Perricone, as one of his top 10 "Super Foods."
Wearing black is known to make you look slimmer, but eating black food can actually help you lose weight. Making better food choices is the nutritional cornerstone to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. One way to do that is by choosing more dark colored food. Just by swapping out light for dark, like whole grain or rye bread for white, or pale lettuce for dark green, you'll be adding nutrients and flavor without adding calories.
Easy Ways to Darken Your Diet
People are discovering all kinds of black food like black carrots, black eel and black chicken. But if you're not up for a culinary adventure, you can still inject your daily diet with a healthy dose of black by adding the following foods.
Black rice: Why settle for plain white rice when you can choose from exotic black, red and purple varieties. The darker shades are rich in riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and full of flavonoids known for their antioxidative properties. And "colored" rice is more flavorful than their bleached brethren adding a more toothsome bite and a nutty, delicious dimension to dishes.
Black beans: Beans in general are praised as a super food, i.e. super good for you. But black and red beans bring even more to the table. They're full of fiber and higher in antioxidants than their lighter counterparts.
Black tea: Just drinking tea is a plus, particularly if you're sipping tea instead of swigging soda. But the darker brew has added health benefits. It's a natural source of caffeine, full of flavinoids and has been found to suppress the growth of bacteria in the mouth that cause cavities and gum diseases.
Blackberries and Blueberries: It's true, the darker the berry, the sweeter and healthier the juice. Literally bursting with flavor, dark-colored berries are good source of vitamin C, manganese and fiber.
Red Wine: Who really needs a reason to indulge in a velvety glass of Cab? But it's still nice to know that red wine is full of antioxidants and resveratrol, a substance found in grape skins and seeds that increases HDL cholesterol and prevents blood from clotting.
And finally, round out your ebony edibles with some deep, dark chocolate. Obviously for its health benefits and not because it's sinfully rich, luscious and deliciously sensuous on your tongue. Preliminary evidence shows that cocoa and other chocolates may keep high blood pressure down, improve blood flow and promote heart health. Blah, blah, blah….Chocolate = good!
Alicia Villarosa has enjoyed a long career in health and fitness teaching classes and personal training for 25 years. She's recently launched a blog called Bargain Biatch on living lux for less.