I love this time of year when we can start getting fresh local produce or growing our own. With the typical choices available, which vegetables or fruits should you eat to have the healthiest diet? The answer is simple: eat as many different colors as you can. The more vibrantly colored the vegetables and fruits are, the richer they are in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.
First you should focus on getting your daily dose of vegetables and fruits.
Based on the food pyramid, you should be eating up to nine servings of vegetables and fruits every day. Recommendations include filling at least three-quarters of your plates at lunch and dinner with vegetables. Instead of high-sugar snacks or desserts, use fresh fruits to give you that sweet treat. My favorite snack has to be fresh raspberries. Choose at least one vegetable from each of five color groups to get a wide range of healthy nutrients.
Why is it important to eat a variety of colors?
Fruits and vegetables get their coloration from phytochemicals and phytonutrients, which are natural bioactive compounds produced by plants. People who eat diets rich in phytonutrients have lower rates of heart disease and cancer, which are the two leading causes of death in the US. You need a variety of these phytonutrients and don’t need an excess of any one of them. That’s why the variety of colors is important.
What do the colors mean?
There are 5 major color groups for vegetables and fruits. Different colors come from different phytonutrients and phytochemicals, and they each have different health benefits. Here are the different color groups:
Red – includes fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, beets, red peppers, red lettuces and cabbage, red beans, and more. They are packed with vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and antioxidants such as lycopene.
Yellow/orange – includes sweet potatoes, carrots, peaches, squash, pineapple, and more. They are also loaded with vitamins C and A, B vitamins, calcium, iron, and potassium, as well as antioxidants like alpha- and beta-carotene. They can benefit your brain, skin, lung, and eye health. One baked sweet potato provides all the vitamin A you need for the day and is richer in potassium than a banana.
Green – includes broccoli, cabbage, kale, salad greens, sprouts, collard or turnip greens, and more. They are rich in potassium, vitamin K, magnesium, iron, calcium, vitamin A, and fiber. Dark green, leafy vegetables have the highest concentration of antioxidants and fiber.
Blue/purple – includes eggplant, purple grapes, raisins, and many vegetables that come in blue or purple varieties, such as carrots, cabbage, potatoes, asparagus. They contain nutrients that improve memory, boost urinary health, and promote healthy aging.
White (or light green) – includes parsnips, garlic, onions, celery, turnips, fennel, and more. They contain compounds called flavonoids, such as quercetin, kaempferol, and anthoxanthins, which have a range of healthful properties, such as decreasing inflammation in the body.
Eating a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables will not only improve your health, but it can also make your meals more vibrant. Kids can often be enticed to eat more vegetables if they are different colors. Our bodies prefer to get nutrients from foods, rather than supplements, and you can provide all the nutrients needed by choosing the rainbow of colors available in the produce aisle or your local farmers market.
If you have any questions about healthy fruits and vegetables, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.
Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor