Eat the Rainbow
What do Egyptian culture and good eating habits have in common? As made evident by the topic of our last blog, the answer is pyramids. Most of us understand the significance of food pyramids, a graphic to healthy eating designed in Sweden in 1974 and introduced by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1992. Though ultimately replaced by MyPlate in 2011, both are comprehensive guides used in the planning of daily meals and serve as a visual aid toward better health. The biggest shift in eating habits between last mid-century and now is an emphasis away from a meat- and potato-based diet to one which includes a minimum of 5-12 servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Though it likely doesn’t come as a surprise, this is a trend that Egyptians have adhered to for as long as history can recall!
You may be wondering how to adopt a vegetable-rich eating regime while still maintaining a balanced diet. Skittles, who famously coined the phrase “Taste the Rainbow”, may have the right idea, but a very faulty execution. “Eating the rainbow” is the newest buzz phrase for visualizing how to get a variety of nutrients and disease-preventing compounds into our meals. Current nutritional wisdom indicates that many Americans do not eat enough of these “phytonutrients” to put them on the path to a healthy lifestyle. Phytonutrients are plant-based compounds that act as predators against harmful, disease-inducing substances. While there are lots of items being touted as “superfoods” these days, fortunately including red wine and chocolate, no one food or food group is able to meet each of our body’s needs. The more varied the color of your meal, the greater your opportunity to ingest the proper nutrients. Here is a useful chart to show what exact benefit each of these colorful foods provide:
As previously mentioned, Egyptians have long adhered to produce-based diets. What external factors could have triggered this? Ancient Egyptian kingdoms, unlike contemporary nomadic tribes, typically stayed in one place to farm and build their culture. People who lived on the go had a much greater need for protein, possessing neither the land nor the time for cultivating crops. As a result, their diets were predominately animal based. Conversely, stabilized Egyptian kingdoms benefited greatly from the Nile delta, which had provided the arable land and irrigation needed for agriculture. Given that the river brought nutrients onto the top of the soil during flooding, the fields only needed shallow plowing for the crops to produce nutrient-rich foods. Trees afforded nuts, fruits, and grains such as barley, flax, and corn to be effortlessly grown, having since become another central cooking variable in many Mediterranean countries. The climate was another helpful component that allowed, under average weather conditions, the ability to grow some category of food year-round. As a method of preserving food during times of high heat, those that could not be eaten immediately would undergo a drying process to properly preserve them. Overall, easy to harvest land resulted in a diet filled with grains, legumes, and flavorful vegetables, a trend which has sustained itself in present day Egyptian culinary regimes!
In the United States, we are fortunate to have an abundance of fresh produce available year-round. Visitors from foreign countries regularly ask to visit our grocery stores and see the wealth of food we all-too-often take for granted. Thanks to a diverse group of immigrants, American foodies also benefit from a large variety of options, as local grocers begin to carry items that are needed to make meals more authentic to many ethnic heritages. Whether it’s a seasonal farm stand or trendy grocery store shelf, the variety of fruits and vegetables at our fingertips is truly worthy of awe.
Eating naturally multi-colored foods (sorry, Fruity Pebbles don’t count) is a great way to control your weight by taking in a lot of fiber and cutting down on otherwise wasted calories. While there may be no purely zero-calorie foods, some vegetables’ calories can be mostly burned off through the process of chewing and digestion. So, even if a steak and baked potato is your go-to meal, perhaps try adding broccoli with a squeeze of lemon, a salad of mixed greens or even some marinated eggplant (hint, hint), to boost your nutritional intake. Unfortunately, there is no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow… only a very long list of savory tastes, saved calories and surprising health benefits! It’s never too late to #EatLikeAnEgyptian.