March is National Nutrition Month, a campaign sponsored by the American Dietetic Association to promote nutrition education; this year’s theme is Eat Right with Color.
As a dietitian, I am often asked about multivitamins. My personal recommendation, however, is to obtain nutrients from eating a variety of whole foods as research is yet to conclude if supplementation has the same benefits as obtaining these nutrients through the diet. Each day and week, think about including fruits and vegetables from all color families to provide your body with a rainbow of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, substances that protect the cells in your body. Aim for at least three different colors at each meal to obtain maximal health benefits.
Blue/purple: Anthocyanins, found in blueberries, black rice, red cabbage and cherries, are antioxidants which are touted to decrease inflammation associated with arthritis and heart disease. These foods also contain resveratrol, an antioxidant specifically linked to protecting against heart disease and maintaining eye health. Anthocyanins also contain anti-aging properties, may help with memory and promote urinary tract health. Blueberries, likely because of the anthocyanins, have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood pressure.
Red: Red foods such as tomatoes, beets, watermelon and pomegranates contain lycopene, an antioxidant that in men with high intakes was linked with decreased risk of prostate cancer. These antioxidants also protect us from heart disease and may benefit those with exercise-induced asthma.
Green: Kale, spinach, broccoli, avocados and asparagus are nutritional powerhouses that are rich in lutein for eye health and vitamin K for bone health. Green fruits and vegetables are also good sources of vitamin C, folate, and magnesium.
Orange/Yellow: Sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, and apricots contain a variety of carotenoids, which enhance immune function. Carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables (not supplements) have been shown to possibly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Orange and yellow foods are also high in vitamin A to help protect the eyes and are thought to fend off colds by boosting immunity.
White: The lack of color in these foods is not for lack of nutrition! Potatoes are high in potassium, an electrolyte that helps lower blood pressure, and vitamin C for immunity. Cauliflower, potatoes and mushrooms contain allicin and quercetin, substances that may defend against cancer and inflammation leading to heart disease. Red onions contain several types of antioxidants including quercetin. Onions and garlic are beneficial to the cardiovascular and immune systems and may also have anti-cancer effects as well.
Brown: The brown group not only contain produce such as dates, but also whole grains including wheat, brown rice and wild rice are good sources of fiber to aid with weight management, maintain gut integrity and control blood sugars. They are also packed with B vitamins and iron to keep you energized. Almonds contain heart healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamin E, an antioxidant.
A few ideas to add color to your diet:
- Add spinach to your fruit smoothies – you won’t even be able to taste it!
- Add a spring mix salad topped with colorful bell peppers and red onion as an appetizer to any meal.
- Mix fresh berries into your morning oatmeal.
- Pack cut-up carrots to eat with lunch or a snack.
- Make a homemade soup with pureed or chopped vegetables including celery, carrots, potatoes and peas. Or add extra vegetables to low-sodium, canned soups.
- Each week or month, find a recipe for a fruit or vegetable that you haven’t tried before.
For more information about National Nutrition Month visit: http://www.eatright.org/nnm/
How do you add color to your diet?