“The whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead” is an old saying which demonstrates the wisdom of old-time farmers and housewives who knew, somehow, without any help from nutrition experts or food chemists and technologists, that, when the germ and bran were removed from the grain, to make milling easier for the miller and baking easier for the baker, the white flour which was left did not contain what was needed to nourish their families.
Is it true? You bet it is. White bread, along with white sugar are responsible for most of our present-day diseases of civilization, according to some highly qualified experts on the subject. And today’s bread is whiter than white because, in addition to removing the “alive” part of the wheat (the germ) and the fibrous part of the wheat (the bran), millers now bleach flour, because, they try to make us believe, we just won’t buy bread unless it is pasty, chalky white.
This is nonsense, of course. The difference in color between bleached flour and unbleached flour is so small that no one could tell them apart except an expert. But bleached flour is easier to work with in baking. The bleach “ages” the flour, so that the baker doesn’t have to waste time waiting for it to “age” to the precise degree he must have. So it’s another shortcut.
As anyone knows who has made bread at home with wholegrain flour, the real color of a wholegrain loaf of bread is not “black” as we are told the bread of old-time Europeans was. It was a pale, golden brown which may be a tinge darker if you have used a few tablespoons of blackstrap molasses in it. Blackstrap is very dark in color, mostly because of all the highly nutritious minerals it contains, like iron – more than any other food. And like potassium, more than any other food. And magnesium-more than almost any other food. And chromium-probably more than any other food.
Blackstrap molasses is what is left in the vats when sugar is refined from sugarcane. When the pure white substance that is refined sugar has been removed from the sugar refinery vats, all the minerals that were in the original sugarcane remain in the vat -blackstrap molasses.
When you see commercial bread that is very dark, chances are that the dark color was produced with caramelized or burnt sugar which can be almost black. So don’t depend on the “blackness” of the bread for a high nutrient content. The safest bread is bread you make yourself at home using many kinds of highly nutritious ingredients, or the bread you get at your health food store.
What about the colors of other food? These days it’s sometimes hard to tell what you’re getting in a supermarket, since so many dyes are used. Let’s deal with the fresh foods first. You’re standing at the produce counter looking for salad greens. What can you tell by color? There is one cardinal rule: the deeper the green, the more vitamin A and minerals will be in the greens.
Parsley and watercress are loaded with vitamin A, iron, potassium, vitamin C, and the B vitamins. Dandelion greens and turnip greens, the same. As the lettuce and curly endives get lighter and lighter in color, they will almost certainly contain less and less that is valuable from the point of view of nutrients. Iceberg lettuce and the loose-headed varieties have considerable vitamin A, but much less mineral content than the deeper green leaves. So, whenever you make salad, try always to make it completely or partially of very deep green leaves.
The same is true of the yellow foods. You always know that carrots are rich in vitamin A because of their bright orange-yellow-the color of vitamin A. Squash and pumpkin also give away their large vitamin A content by their bright yellow color. In other vegetables, as well, look for the bright color: broccoli and spinach are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals. Their deep green color is the clue.
You will notice that, when you cook deep green vegetables, the color tends to cook away, and if you overcook them you get a pale, watered-out imitation of what you started out with. Does this mean vitamins and minerals have been cooked out? It does. The vitamins and minerals are in the cooking water. That is the reason why any good cook will cook vegetables in as little water as possible, for as short a time as possible, and will serve as many raw as possible. And will always use the “pot liquor” for some later dish – soup, for example.
In fruits, the same general rules about color prevail – the brighter the color the more nutrient is inside. Apricots have a fabulous vitamin A content. They’re orange-yellow. Green peaches lack vitamins and minerals. They develop as the fruit ripens. Look for bright golden flesh in the peaches you buy. The yellow skin of bananas is a bit deceiving, since you don’t eat the skin. But the pale flesh of bananas has enough vitamin C, B vitamins and potassium to qualify them as excellent, inexpensive sources of natural sugar.
If you can get eggs from some small farmer who raises chickens organically mostly for his own use, you’ll see egg yolks that look positively brilliant yellow compared with what comes out of the shell of a supermarket egg. This means more vitamin A. Egg yolks are one of our best sources. Chances are the eggs will also have much more of the B vitamins and many minerals. Butter these days has a nearly uniform color, for most dairy cows are fed the same general kind of fodder. If you come upon some butter that has a brighter cast and you can be sure it’s not dyed, then that is the butter for you.
If you’re hesitating between planting red tomatoes and yellow tomatoes chances are the red ones will have more vitamin C and A, just because the color is more intense.
On the other hand, you must watch out in a supermarket for dyed foods. Almost anything you buy which has been processed in any way may have been dyed to make it look more attractive and more nourishing. Maraschino cherries, for example, are redder than any natural red cherry has ever been. Steer clear of them. Almost any commercial ice cream is likely to contain some dye-to make it look as if it had more strawberries or peaches or vanilla in it than it actually has. Processed cheeses – and these are always marked “processed” on the label – are dyed bright yellow or orange. This does not mean they have more vitamin A than paler cheese-they’re just pretending to. Farm-raised salmon is often dyed to make the fish look more attractive, more like really tasty, fresh wild salmon. Any of the following kinds of food is almost bound to be dyed: candy, soft drinks and other commercial beverages, baked goods, commercial breakfast cereals, jellies, jams, dessert powders, pet food. It is no longer mandatory to stamp dyed oranges, saying they have been dyed, so there is no way to know, although markets are supposed to have signs designating certain oranges as dyed. They seldom do.
Generally speaking, foods in the health food store are not dyed, though, nowadays, it might be wise to ask if you think a color looks unusually vivid. Unfortunately, a lot of the old standards for “natural” have been lost as organics have become big business. And what about colors in the tablets and capsules of food supplements? Here the coloring has nothing to do with nutrient content. No one is trying to make you believe that a certain capsule contains more vitamin E than another because it has a more golden color. The vitamin and mineral content of every food supplement must be printed on the label so there should be no deception.
Those food supplements which are colored, usually with natural dyes, have this color mostly, we suppose, to make them less confusing. If you’re taking 10 or 12 pills and capsules at breakfast and they all look alike-the same pale yellow or the same creamy white-it’s very hard to tell whether you counted out the right amount of this or that supplement.
In sum, the message is: color matters, but Buyer Beware! Be skeptical of too vividly colored foods that may be chemically enhanced; look for foods with deep, rich colors produced by Nature.