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Exotic delights - Eat a rainbow

Chef Lance Seeto
Sunday, December 03, 2017

In tomorrow's second episode of his hit FBC TV series Exotic Delights, Chef Seeto reveals a simple and easy way to change the way we see food and to improve your regular diet — follow the rainbow of colourful foods.

Changing the way we see food and educating ourselves about a healthier diet are fundamental stepping stones to living longer.

For far too many generations, Fijians have adopted a very unhealthy way of eating and are now paying the price with sickness touching nearly every family across the islands.

This brand new cooking series takes viewers on a journey to rediscover the foods of life as I combine ancient gastronomy and my knowledge of medicinal foods with a whole new world of flavours, to not only help correct the dietary mistakes of the past, but to get you to think differently about the food you put on your plate.

Hidden secret of rainbow foods

The dietary war against non-communicable diseases is never black and white. A regular diet rich in colourful fruits and vegetables may just be one of the best ways to prevent and treat many of the diseases that afflict Pacific Island nations.

Plants contain pigments that give their colourful hue, like the colour bands of a rainbow, which is why they are often referred to as the rainbow foods. Next time you see a rainbow on the horizon, note the colour bands of red, orange, green and purple.

Each coloured food contains different vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals including the healing power of antioxidants. Antioxidants are microscopic molecules that prevent the oxidation of other molecules in our body. They contain large amounts of special nutrients that help boost immunity and fight off disease.

In layman's terms, antioxidants help prevent our cells from turning bad, just as a raw piece of fruit turns black if you leave it in the air for too long, or how meat eventually turns rotten when left out in the open. A poor diet is one that lacks many of the antioxidant foods.

Our immune system needs fuel to battle all the bad things we eat, drink and breathe, and the antioxidants found in fresh foods is a vital, if not critical, source of fuel. If your regular diet consists of foods with little nutrition — basically most processed foods — then you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of sickness. Antioxidant-rich foods are highly recommended in everyone's diet, but especially as we age as the phytochemicals help keep heal and repair damaged cells.

Not surprisingly, the traditional Fijian medicinal foods like layalaya (Fijian ginger), kura (noni), virgin coconut oil and coconut water (bu), haldi (turmeric), bitter gourd, local fruits and vegetables are all rich in antioxidants. And as my grandmother used to tell me, the best medicine foods are the ones that taste or smell the worse.

Why we see in colour

Cats and dogs are like colour-blind humans, seeing some colours but not all of them. For the bright daytime light, cells known as cones are needed. Humans have three kinds of cones, enabling them to see blue, red and green in the same way a TV or computer screen produces colour.

Cats and dogs, on the other hand, have just two kinds of cone cells (blue and green sensitive), allowing them to see only partial colour. Birds can see even more colours than humans including in the ultraviolet range with four cone cells to our three.

Why is this important to know in terms of diet? One of the benefits of seeing in many colours is to recognise the visual signals in nature. Birds fly high in search of ripened fruit and being able to see a wide spectrum of colour would surely assist their ability to find the right foods ripened at the right time.

Colour is nature's way of signalling "I'm ready - come and eat me" — and this is the importance of learning to eat the colours of the rainbow.

Eating the colours of the rainbow

It's something I was taught when I was very young. Each colour in food has its own unique medicinal value and so "eating a rainbow" each day means choosing foods that represent every colour of the rainbow. If you follow this simple principle it makes easier to remember if you have eaten all of nature's medicine each day. Red is the colour of our blood so red foods like tomatoes, capsicum, chilli and watermelon help keep our cells, heart and blood healthy.

Orange foods like sweet potato, pawpaw and carrots convert to vitamin A which is important for healthy skin, a strong immune system and good eye-health.

Yellow foods like banana, passionfruit and pineapple contain strong antioxidant properties that fight inflammatory disorders.

Green foods like all lettuce, cabbages, spinaches and cress are some of the most nutritionally charged foods that are packed full of fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Purple foods like the skins of eggplant, purple dalo and berries are known for their powerful antioxidant power including an enzyme called anthocyanin, while white and brown foods like legumes, nuts and mushrooms contain a broad range of medicines that increase immunity, maintain healthy blood and digestive tract.

The whole concept of eating a rainbow is to ensure a simple and easy way to remind ourselves whether we are eating a balanced diet of healthy foods that contain natural medicine. If you are not, you can be assured your body is missing vital vitamins and minerals to heal and repair itself.

Behind the scenes

In tomorrow night's episode, we first visit my new island restaurant at Malamala Beach Club. One of the most colourful dishes on my menu is a fruit salad called fruit salusalu, as its shape represents a Fijian floral garland. The use of our local fruits is obvious in a fruit salad but what makes this dish so special is the addition of nama (sea grapes), an ingredient more commonly used in seafood dishes like kokoda.

The iron-rich nama cleverly complements the sweetness of the fruit and also adds a delightful, bubbly crunch to a boring plate of fruit as we watch one of my chefs assemble this popular dessert. We then return home to prepare two more dishes inspired by the colours of green and purple.

Green ingredients are pretty obvious to us all and the introduction of Thai green curry paste in this episode, which is widely available in New World supermarkets and Chinese stores, is a convenient way to get all the goodness of green herbs into home cooking.

The colour purple is not so obvious a food source in Fiji compared with berries found in colder climates but if you think about the colour of eggplant skins, purple kumala and purple dalo (uronivonu) it becomes clearer how we can also enjoy purple foods in the South Pacific. Coupled with overseas purple cabbage, grapes, beetroot and red onions (which are actually purple in colour!), the final dish is rich in purple foods and served with a delicious barbecue cumin lamb.

So what colours of the rainbow have you forgotten to eat today?

? Exotic Delights with Lance Seeto airs every Monday at 7.45pm on FBC TV, or visit him for lunch at Malamala Beach Club.

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