Color Your Plate

Not only are colorful fruits and vegetables visually appealing, they’re also packed with nutrients.  Deep, bright hues typically signify high concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  While vitamins and minerals are essential for the body to function properly, antioxidants help prevent disease.

At a typical meal, how many different colors are on your plate?  To meet your body’s nutrient needs, and protect against disease, challenge yourself to include more color in each meal.  Think of your plate as a blank canvas and channel your inner artist!  Following are examples of colorful fruits and vegetables, and some of the nutrients they provide.

RED FOODS: Strawberries, Raspberries, Cherries, Tomatoes, Beets, Red Bell Peppers,Watermelon, Cranberries, Pink Grapefruit, Pomegranates,Guava, Red Grapes, Red Apples, Red Pears, etc.

Red foods get their color from phytonutrients (antioxidants) called ANTHOCYANINS and LYCOPENE. Anthocyanins in strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and red grapes, protect against cellular damage. Lycopene, in tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon, and guava, protects against prostate cancer and heart disease. Two additional antioxidants in red foods are ELLAGIC ACID (in raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, and pomegranates) and VITAMIN C (highly concentrated in strawberries and red bell peppers).

ORANGE AND YELLOW FOODS: Carrots, Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkin, Cantaloupe, Oranges, Tangerines, Apricots, Mangoes, Papayas, Orange Bell Peppers, Yellow Bell Peppers, Pineapple, Winter Squash, Nectarines, Peaches, Persimmons, Yellow Pears, Yellow Apples, etc.

Orange and yellow pigments come from BETA CAROTENE, an antioxidant that protects against macular degeneration, prevents heart disease, and strengthens the immune system. Carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe, apricots, and mangoes are good sources of beta carotene.  In addition, orange and yellow foods tend to be high in VITAMIN C, which is essential for the body’s growth and repair.  Cantaloupe, papaya, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, and mangoes are good sources of vitamin C.

GREEN FOODS: Spinach, Dark Leafy Greens, Broccoli, Kale, Asparagus, Snap Peas, String Beans, Kiwi, Honeydew, Green Bell Peppers, Green Grapes, Green Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, Bok Choy, Artichokes, Broccoli Rabe, Zucchini, Cucumbers, Celery, Green Apples, Green Pears, etc.

Dark leafy green foods (including spinach, kale, and collard greens) contain LUTEIN, an antioxidant which (in combination with zeaxanthin- also found in leafy greens) may help reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Green foods, such as broccoli and spinach, are also good sources of FOLATE, which can help reduce the risk of birth defects in pregnant women. Green foods also provide us with BETA CAROTENE (in broccoli, spinach and other dark, leafy greens) and VITAMIN C (in broccoli, kiwi, green bell peppers, and Brussel sprouts).

BLUE and PURPLE foods: Blueberries, Blackberries, Plums, Eggplant, Purple Cabbage, Purple Grapes, Purple Figs, etc.

 Blue and purple foods contain ANTHOCYANINS, the antioxidants that color food red, blue, or purple and may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

WHITE foods: Cauliflower, Jicama, Bananas, White Nectarines, White Peaches, Kohlrabi, Cabbage, Garlic, Onions, Potatoes, etc.

White foods have ANTHOXANTHINS, antioxidants that may help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Are you ready to jazz up your meals with a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables?  Here are a few tips to help get you started:
  • Make a list of your favorite fruits and vegetables of each color.
  • Use the list to plan several meals for the week.
    • Meal ideas:
      • Oatmeal with an array of your favorite colorful fruit with slivered almonds and cinnamon or nutmeg. (Consider: berries, melon, sliced banana, sliced apple, sliced nectarine, and/or sliced plum.)
      • Appetizer or snack of your favorite vibrant raw veggies with hummus or pureed black beans and salsa.  (Consider: carrots, snap peas, red bell peppers, jicama, and string beans.)
      • Stir fried veggies (your favorite red, orange, yellow and green ones) with a small portion of lean protein
      • Veggie chili with every color in the rainbow.  (Consider: tomatoes, diced winter squash or carrots, yellow bell peppers or pineapple, green beans or broccoli, eggplant, onions or cauliflower, and black or pinto beans.)
      • A big salad (dark leafy greens, beets or raspberries, diced mango or roasted sweet potato chunks, yellow bell peppers, purple cabbage, cauliflower, etc.) with some type of lean protein (chickpeas, kidney beans, hard boiled egg, tuna, tofu, chicken breast, etc.) and balsamic vinegar.
      • An omelet or scrambled eggs with spinach, tomato, orange bell pepper, and garlic.
      • Whole wheat pasta with an eggplant-broccoli-bell pepper tomato sauce.
      • Hummus and veggie sandwich on whole grain bread. (Remember to include your favorite red, orange/yellow, and green veggies.)
      • Pizza on whole wheat crust with a medley of colorful vegetable and/or fruit toppings. (Consider: tomatoes, spinach, pineapple, eggplant, and bell peppers.)
      • For dessert, serve fresh berries, or diced mango, papaya, pineapple, kiwi, and melon, or baked apples, or poached pears
  •  Use your plan create a shopping list of your favorite red, orange/yellow, green, blue/purple, and white foods and go hit the market.  Happy shopping!