Paint your plate with a rainbow of
fruits and vegetables
We hear daily about foods we should avoid or eat less, but the message about fruits and vegetables is consistent. "Enjoy eating more fruits and vegetables every day - five to nine servings a day is protective of good health."
We are beginning to hear the message. More people report getting at least the minimum five a day, but room for improvement remains. Much of our consumption is of the least protective, least pigmented varieties, such as iceberg lettuce, bananas and white potatoes. While there is nothing wrong with these choices, they lack the protective punch of their more colorful cousins, such as darker leaf lettuces or sweet potatoes.
The pigments that make brightly colored produce so attractive are just the most visible members of a large collection of "phytochemicals." They will not be found in any Recommended Dietary Allowances or nutrition facts labels, but their colors give them away. Take advantage of summer’s bounty and choose from the full spectrum of the rainbow. Phytochemicals work best together helping cells regenerate and repair, lowering risk of many cancers and heart disease. Aim to include at least one colorful fruit or vegetable in each meal or snack. The more variety the better!
Here is a color-by-color commentary of health benefits. Be sure to eat fruits and veggies both raw and cooked. Heating destroys some phytochemicals but releases others in a more available form.
Deep yellow or orange. Carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes, apricots, mangoes, cantaloupe are good sources of beta-carotene, a carotenoid that is converted to vitamin A in the body. The deeper the color, the higher the level of beta carotene, which fights cancer, helps with vision, and supports the immune system.
Red. Lycopene is the carotenoid that makes tomatoes red and appears in lesser amounts in watermelon, guava and pink grapefruit. Cooked tomatoes provide more lycopene than raw. Lycopene may be the most potent antioxidant of all the carotenoids. It has been linked by many studies to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and many types of cancer, especially prostate, lung and stomach.
Red peppers are rich in beta-carotene. Red grapes supply lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that help protect our eyes from macular degeneration.
Dark green. Dark green vegetables, such as broccoli, leaf lettuce, spinach, brussel sprouts, and green peas, are excellent sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as folate. Folate helps prevent neural tube birth defects and is also protective against heart attack, stroke and cancer. Many dark green vegetables are also good sources of beta-carotene.
Purple. Anthocyanin pigments color the dark red, purple or blue fruits and vegetables, such as eggplant, red potatoes, blueberries, beets, raspberries and red grapes. Members of a larger group of powerful antioxidants known as "flavonoids," anthocyanins seem to reduce heart disease risk.
White. Strong-flavored white vegetables like onions, scallions, leeks and garlic contain sulfides. There is evidence they may suppress tumor growth and fight bacteria.
Try Spinach Salad!
This salad from our diabetes education program explodes with color and phytochemicals. The dressing is used with a light hand to keep fat calories low. Artificial sweeteners are called for, but 4 teaspoons sugar could be substituted.
(shake together in a pint jar):
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 packages artificial sweetener
2 cups cooked, cooled bowtie or rotini noodles
2 cups torn raw spinach
¾ cup sliced celery
¼ cup sliced green onions
1 medium tomato or 1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 cup seedless red grapes
½ cup raw snow peas
½ pound cooked shrimp or 8 oz. grilled chicken breast, cooled and chopped
Each serving: 276 calories, 32 g carbohydrate, 8.5 g fat, 18 g protein, 85 mg sodium. Excellent source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, folate.
Cynthia Fauser, MS, RD, LD