Color Me Healthy

By: Lisa Pacitto

At some time in our lives, most of us have heard “Eat your vegetables!” That’s because fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals that are necessary for the body to maintain optimum health. As of 1990, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are at least two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables daily; yet two studies published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (April 2007) clearly show that most Americans are not meeting these guidelines.
Recent nutrition research may provide more of an incentive for you to up your daily intake of fruits and veggies.  Studies have shown that consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables results in a decreased risk of obesity and certain chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.
Protecting the body from illness and disease involves increasing the quantity as well as the variety of fruits and vegetables you eat. Different colored fruits and vegetables naturally contain different nutrients that are needed by the body. To add more health to your diet and more color to your plates, include produce from these color groups daily.
Red colored produce like tomatoes, watermelons and pink grapefruits contain lycopene, and should be eaten daily. Diets rich in Lycopene are being studied for their ability to fight heart disease and some cancers.
Blue and purple colored fruits and vegetables contain two disease fighting phytochemicals. These powerful antioxidants help reduce the risk of disease including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and may even slow the aging process.
Dark Green Colored Vegetables such as collards, turnip greens, kale and spinach should be eaten every day. These nutritional powerhouses are loaded with lutien (pronounced LOO-ten), an antioxidant that helps reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Other green veggies like cabbage, Brussels sprouts and broccoli help protect against breast cancer and prostate cancer.  
Deep orange colored and bright yellow colored fruits and vegetables should be eaten often. Vegetables such as yams, carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkins all contain beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease. Other fruits and veggies like lemons, yellow bell peppers, oranges, yellow raisins and pears contain bioflavoniods that work together with Vitamin C to keep bodies healthy, strengthen bones and teeth, heal wounds, keep skin healthy and lower the risk of heart attack.
White colored produce like onions, leeks and garlic may be lacking in color but they contain a powerful nutrient called allicin, which may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and increase the body’s ability to fight infection. Nutrition research shows that eating vegetables from the onion family may speed recovery from colds, reduce the risk of heart attacks, and may even stop the spread of certain cancers, particularly stomach and colon cancer.
You might never persuade your kids to choose cauliflower over cupcakes, but adding more vegetables of varying colors to your diet will go a long way toward protecting your family’s health.