By Kate Arvesen Baylor nutrition student
Recently, I conquered my own 14-day diet revamp challenge where I took excessive added sugars out of my diet. I even encouraged others to join me, and I posted each day tips on how to be successful on the Lemond Nutrition Facebook page. I really did not have a big sugar craving until the last night. Can you believe it? My last craving was the last 24 hours of the challenge! I desperately wanted our family chocolate chip cookie. In the final hours, I had to push for what I wanted, and that was the goal of lowering my daily amount of sugar. The reduced amount of sugar left more room for nutrient-rich carbohydrates to enjoy. Our local outdoor fitness group and wellness partner, Camp Gladiator, has recently issued a veggie challenge to their campers. Eat at least 5 servings of vegetables each day and vary your colors to at least 3 different ones per day. Instead of always limiting ourselves, why not increase the intake of foods that will benefit us? And hey, we can manage our weight while we do it.
Have you ever wondered why you should eat different colors of produce? Maybe you’ve seen hashtags on social media like #eatcolor or #eatarainbow. It’s not only because it looks pretty on your plate - although it does.
The reason why registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) support eating colors on the plate is to maximize the amounts of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that the body can consume. What are phytochemicals, you ask? They are naturally occuring compounds found in plant-based foods that have both preventative and treatment applications for a variety of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Every color contains specific phytochemicals so the more variety, the better your health. If we eat more fruits and vegetables , we can spend less on replacements or supplements by eating the real source. Then, we can cook them at home in different ways including steaming or grilling. When looking for vegetables to cook or eat, look out for the five main groups of color, which are red, white, green, yellow/orange, and blue/purple.
Red, the color of passion and love, has specific phytochemicals that promote a healthy heart and memory. I'd like to think that is why red is a romantic color. The phytochemicals in red are lycopene and anthocyanin. Some common red fruits and vegetables are cherries, tomatoes, grapes, radishes or strawberries. Less common are beets, radishes, radicchio and rhubarb! I know that rhubarbs make for a great pie!
White can often scare us like a ghost thinking that it is a simple carb. Fear not! White fruits and vegetables are known to help heart health, maintain cholesterol levels, and lower risks of some cancers. Onions, a common white vegetable, have a phytochemical known as allicin. There have been some studies that have shown allicin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the body. Other white fruits are banana, peaches, and nectarines. Other white vegetables are mushrooms, cauliflower, and garlic.
Green is one of the most common vegetable colors. When you think of drinking a veggie juice or salad, green is probably one of the first colors that will come to mind. I think it is the abundance of green in nature that makes us think of green as a color highly represented among fruits and vegetables. The pigment green includes the sources of lutein and indoles, which are phytochemicals that can lower cancer, build strong bones/teeth, and aid in vision. In addition, green vegetables contain folic acid, vitamin D, E, and K. Common green fruits are avocados, apples, grapes, limes, pears, and kiwi. Common green vegetables are artichokes, arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery, cucumbers, leeks, lettuce, and zucchini.
Yellow/orange is well known for producing vitamin C, but it is also known for other antioxidants such as carotenoids and bioflavonoids. These antioxidants promote a healthy immune system, better vision, and a healthy heart. Vitamin C helps in wound healing and infection resistance. The common yellow/orange fruits include nectarines, cantaloupe, and oranges. Less common fruits are papayas, persimmons, and mangoes. The common yellow/orange vegetables are carrots, pumpkin, and corn; where as the less common are yellow beets or rutabagas.
Blue/purple can seem like an intimidating color to add on the plate. Contrary to popular belief, there are many blue/purple fruits and vegetables. Their phytochemicals, anthocyanins and phenolics, are known to promote urinary tract health, memory function, and healthy aging. In addition, they have been known to lower the risk of cancer. Blue/purple fruit include plums, raisins, purple figs, blackberries and blueberries. Blue/purple vegetables include eggplant, purple asparagus, purple cabbage, purple carrots, and potatoes.
Eating the color wheel gives our body all the phytochemicals that will support a good overall health. It will also make your plate look appeasing. Try to find ways to incorporate different colors in each meal. For breakfast, you could make scrambled eggs with red peppers and white mushrooms. For lunch, you could make a salad with spinach, purple asparagus, and shredded carrots. For dinner, you could try spaghetti squash with tomatoes. For a snack, you can have a pitayas or dates!
Adding veggies can be simple and delicious task to a meal. Whether organic or not, vegetables will always exemplify the “superfood” notion because of the great amount of phytochemical and anti-inflammatory benefits. Instead of minimizing intake, lets start a new challenge of adding beneficial foods to maximize a positive result!
More great resources on fruits and vegetables:
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food & Nutrition Topics
The Academy's 20 Ways to Add More Fruits and Vegetables (pdf)
Fruits and Veggies More Matters Color List & Recipe by Produce Type
Cooking, Shopping and Meal Planning Information, USDA
Lemond Nutrition Blog: May I Have More Fruits and Veggies? By Maria-Paula Carrillo, MSN, RDN, LD
Lemond Nutrition Blog: Take the Color Challenge -- Dietitians, Too! By Angela Lemond, RDN, CSP, LD
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Kate Arvesen is a 2nd year nutrition intern at Lemond Nutrition. She is beginning her senior year at Baylor University and plans on applying to a dietetic internship. Other than her interest in nutrition, Kate loves traveling and spending time with family and friends.
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