When you eat you should think color. Why? Because color is not only pleasing to the eye but research shows a colorful combination of fruits and vegetables can help keep our hearts, minds, and eyes healthy. When I was a little girl, my mother always told me to eat my carrots because they were good for my eyes. You know, she was right. In fact, the orange pigment in carrots has carotenoids that can be made into vitamin A in the body, which is essential for eye health. Fruits and vegetables are naturally cholesterol free, low in fat and calories, and high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and natural chemicals called phytonutrients. Also, they come in a rainbow of colors each providing something a little different to help keep us healthy.
Red fruits and vegetables contain plant pigments called lycopene or anthocyanins. Research has shown that lycopene may inhibit the growth of cancer cells and anthocyanins have been linked to stimulating the immune system acting as a powerful antioxidant. Good sources include tomatoes (especially cooked), red peppers, radishes, beets, cherries, pomegranates, strawberries, and watermelon.
Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables contain carotenoids. A diet rich in carotenoid foods is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease. Carotenoids are also linked with eye health, and aid the immune system by reducing “free radicals”. Include peaches, oranges, cantaloupe, apricots, sweet potatoes, acorn and butternut squash in your diet.
Green fruits and vegetables contain a natural pigment called chlorophyll. Eating green fruits and vegetables such as dark leafy greens, green peppers, peas, and cucumbers in combination with other bright colors like corn, red peppers, oranges, and grapes work together to help reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Also, leafy greens such as spinach and broccoli are good sources of folate, a B vitamin, shown to reduce the risk of birth defects and keep our heart healthy.
Blue and purple fruits and vegetables contain health-promoting phytonutrients, such as polyphenols and anthocyanins. These act as antioxidants and protects our cells from damage. A study by the USDA and Tuft’s University has shown the consumption of blueberries has reversed memory loss in rats. Besides blueberries, consuming purple grapes, plums, figs, eggplant, and purple cabbage all help to protect our cells from damage and should be included in your daily intake.
A healthy diet should include a variety of fruits and vegetables, 5-9 servings, every day along with whole grains and lean protein to reduce the risks of disease. A study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that in California, approximately 73% of the population ate fewer than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day for the year 2007. Fruits and vegetables come in a rainbow of colors and as a general rule, the deeper and darker the produce the greater amount of nutrients. Therefore, your daily goal should be to make your plate as colorful as possible. “What color is your plate?”