National Nutrition Month: Color Your Plate!

- March 6, 2019

March is National Nutrition Month (NNM), which highlights the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. Having a diet rich in color allows you to get a lot of vitamins and minerals with your food. Fruits and vegetables tend to vary in color and nutrient content. They provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, flavor, color, and texture to your meals.

A healthy eating style includes vegetables from all five vegetable subgroups – dark-green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and other vegetables. Vegetables may be raw, cooked, fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated.

A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar, which can help keep appetite in check. Eating non-starchy vegetables and fruits like apples, pears, and green leafy vegetables may even promote weight loss. Their low glycemic loads prevent blood sugar spikes that can increase hunger.

Let’s talk colors!

RED

Red fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants. Antioxidants help to protect the body from harmful molecules called free radicals. Some fruits such as tomatoes contain lycopene, a red carotenoid pigment, which help to fight some cancers. They also contain vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, and fiber, which makes them great for heart health. Some examples within this color category are tomatoes, cherries, red apples, red peppers (bell or cayenne), pomegranate, raspberries, cranberries, and strawberries.

YELLOW AND ORANGE

Fruits and vegetables of these colors provide great sources of vitamin C and carotene. Carotene is especially beneficial for vision and heart health and reduces the risk of some cancers. Yellow fruits, like bananas, provide a great source of potassium which helps to prevent muscle cramps. It also provides soluble fiber which increases satiety. Some great examples of produce in this color category are sweet potatoes, bananas, pumpkins, yellow and orange peppers, peaches, nectarines, carrots, cantaloupes, and butternut squash.

BLUE AND PURPLE

Blue and purple fruits and vegetables are very high in antioxidants called anthocyanins. These fruits and vegetables have increased anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. They support blood vessel health and blood pressure and also aid in memory function. They also aid in reducing some cancers. Some good sources include red onions, red cabbage, purple grapes, eggplant, blueberries, plums, figs, and blackberries

GREEN

These vegetables and fruits contain cancer-fighting chemicals that block carcinogens (cancer-causing components). Another benefit they serve is to promote stronger bones and teeth due to higher mineral content. Some examples include spinach, broccoli, asparagus, green apples, lettuce, cabbage, kale, cucumber, peas, kiwi, edamame, green peppers, and collard greens.

Many studies show that higher consumption of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of cancer, diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, and cardiovascular diseases. Diets such as the Mediterranean diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, all promote higher consumption of fruits and vegetables for better health outcomes.

Here are a few ways to incorporate colorful fruits and vegetables into your diet:

Salads: Salads are a great way to incorporate a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables into your diet. Start with your base – lettuce, spinach or arugula (or whichever greens you may like). Add on the color – tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, green beans, broccoli, grated carrots, and corn kernels. Don’t forget your protein – beans, chickpeas, edamame, nuts (like sesame seeds, walnuts, cashews, or your favorite nut choice), quinoa, tofu, eggs, tuna or chicken. Top with a bit of healthy fat – avocado, cheese, olives/olive oil, and vinaigrette. Add some sweet – raisins, cranberries, berries (strawberries or blueberries), mandarin wedges Make your salads as bright as your personality. Remember to eat the rainbow!

Wraps: Wraps are a great way to combine a meal into one fun packed bite. Vary your veggies by adding a bit of sweet and savory to the mix. Good combinations to add in wraps are black beans, corn kernels, avocado, red and green sweet peppers, red onions, and tomatoes. The outer part of the wrap can be made with lettuce instead of tortillas or flour-based wraps. Adding a lot of color to wraps increases the flavor and keeps you satisfied and energized!

Smoothies: Smoothies are a great way to incorporate unfavorable vegetables in a tasty beverage. Other vegetables and fruits help to mask the taste of bitter veggies and make them more palatable when blended together. Try making a smoothie with kale, cucumbers, strawberries, pineapples, and mangoes blended in coconut water. You would be amazed by the taste!

Soups and Chilis: This is a great way to combine lots of vegetables into one satisfying meal and also helps to incorporate a wide range of colors into your diet.

Color your plate by making half your plate fruits and vegetables for every meal!

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