Health & Wellness Column
Extension Educator – Health & Human Sciences
Purdue Extension Elkhart County
Eat the Rainbow: Benefits of a Colorful Diet
June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month and what better way to give your body a health boost than by adding more color to your meals! Eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables is the best way to get all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need.
Fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients. These phytonutrients give fruits and vegetables their rich colors and protection from environmental threats like insects and excessive sun. When we eat plant foods, these phytonutrients provide us also with protection against certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.
There are hundreds of phytochemicals in a single plant and the benefits can be seen in many colors. The University of Missouri Extension highlights some of the most common benefits seen with each color.
The red carotenoid lycopene gives fruits and vegetables like strawberries and tomatoes their bright color. Lycopene keeps our brain and heart healthy and decreases our risk of stroke. It helps fight prostate and breast cancer and is good for urinary tract health. Lycopene can be found in beets, cherries, red beans, cranberries, rhubarb and watermelon and other red and pink foods.
Orange and yellow foods are high in carotenoids which help decrease inflammation in the body and keep our immune system strong and our skin healthy. They also are great for our vision and allow us to see at night. Some foods high in carotenoids include apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, grapefruit, yellow pears and peppers, and yellow and summer squash.
Green foods have lutein and support eye health by slowing age-related macular degeneration. Green foods like spinach and zucchini are also high in folic acid which is important for having healthy babies. These foods also keep our bones, teeth, and nails strong and also prevent blood clots. Some foods high in lutein include artichokes, asparagus, avocados, broccoli, green beans and peppers, kiwi, and kale.
Blue and purple foods with anthocyanins help us age gracefully by improving our memory and keeping our skin looking young. They also reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of stroke and heart disease. They help fight cancers in the mouth, esophagus, and colon! Some foods high in anthocyanins include blueberries, plums, blackberries, black beans, eggplants, purple cabbage and grapes, and raisins.
White and tan foods have allicin and lower cholesterol and blood pressure, keep our bones strong and healthy, and help fight stomach cancer! Some foods with this benefit include cauliflower, dates, garlic, mushrooms, bananas, and potatoes.
Simple ways to add more variety and color to your plate include:
- Making a rainbow fruit and/or vegetable salad
- Sautéing a medley of mixed vegetables
- Making fruit popsicles by pureeing your favorite fruit such as melon or peaches and/or berries with 100% fruit juice. Freeze in ice cube trays or popsicle molds for a refreshing treat
- Mixing dried fruit and nuts for a trail mix using dried fruits like apricots, cranberries, peaches, raisins, and mixed nuts
Do you know how many servings of fruits and vegetables you eat regularly? In the next three days, track how many fruits and vegetables you eat (and the portion) to get an idea of your average daily intake. You may find that you are not eating the recommended amounts. Visit myplate.gov to explore the amounts recommended for you. ###