The saying “variety is the spice of life” can be representative of an approach you should take to your daily nutrition, particularly when it comes to a variety of colors. Fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which may help protect you from chronic diseases. Recent studies have found that increasing fruit and vegetable intake by as little as one serving per day can have a real impact on heart disease risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), people who consume generous amounts of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet are likely to have a reduced risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Furthermore, fruits and vegetables help to combat free radicals, support good digestive health, and reduce the chances of developing cataracts or macular degeneration.
Fruits and vegetables should make up a large portion of your diet. Dietary guidelines recommend that you eat five to thirteen servings of fruits and vegetables a day (2½ to 6½ cups per day), depending on one’s caloric intake. The specific amount you need may vary with your age, gender, and activity level. The CDC offers a tool on its website, to help you determine the right amount for you. In addition to getting the suggested number of servings, it is also important to incorporate variety. To enjoy a full spectrum of health benefits, include these colors in your daily diet:
- Eating dark green vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet may prevent certain cancers, promote heart health, and help to control weight and blood pressure. Dark green vegetables are important to eat daily, as they contain dietary fiber, high levels of vitamins A, C, E, and K, and key minerals, like magnesium, potassium, iron and calcium.
- Spinach is a nutrition powerhouse! Make a spinach salad with roasted almonds, mandarin oranges or apples, and extra virgin olive oil and garlic. You can sneak spinach in a fruit smoothie for the kids!
- Lycopene is the pigment that gives some fruits, such as tomatoes, their red hue. A number of other studies link high intake of foods containing lycopene to lower risk for cancer, heart disease, and macular degeneration (a cause of vision loss in older adults).
- Add tomatoes and red peppers to your salads, or make your own marinara sauce.
- Some yellow fruits, such as pineapples, contain bromelain, a mixture of enzymes that have been used for centuries to treat indigestion and inflammation. Some studies suggest that bromelain may reduce swelling and bruising, as well as shorten healing time after surgery or injuries.
- Include yellow and orange peppers in your salad, or pack an orange in your lunch for a healthy snack.
- This color results from a pigment called anthocyanin which may enhance brain health. Blueberries have been linked to a reduced risk for age related memory loss; they also considered an antioxidant which can help build your immune system during cold and flu season.
- Top your cereal or oatmeal in the morning with blueberries, or roast some eggplant in the oven for a fast and simple side dish.
The Centers for Disease Control also offers creative ways to stretch your fruit and vegetable budget including planning ahead, buying in season and minimizing waste.
Sources: Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, The American Heart Association, United States Department of Agriculture, LifeWork Strategies EAP, and Adventist HealthCare.