In honor of the National Nutrition Month (March) and the upcoming Defeat Diabetes Month (April), nutrition-centered organizations everywhere are promoting the message to “eat a rainbow” everyday. What does eating a rainbow mean? Essentially, it means that people should eat different colored fruits and vegetables in order to stay healthy. Different color fruits and vegetables have different vitamins and minerals that help keep you healthy. While each one is unique, the nutritional benefits of different fruits and vegetables can be categorized by their color. Here are a few of the benefits for each color category:
- Red– Red fruits and vegetables help keep your heart healthy, help prevent heart disease, keep your bladed healthy, keep your memory strong, and reduce your risk of getting cancer. Red fruits and vegetables are colored by natural plant pigments called lycopene and anthocyanins. Lycopene helps fight many types of cancer, especially breast cancer, while anthocyanins act as powerful antioxidants which that prevent cell damage and keep the heart healthy. Some examples from the red category are: red apples, beets, tomatoes, red peppers, red cabbage, strawberries, cherries, watermelon, red onion, pomegranates, and cranberries.
- Orange and Yellow– This category is known for containing many citrus fruits high in vitamin C. Naturally, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables help strengthen your immune system and keep you from catching colds, but they also keep your heart healthy, keep your eyes healthy, and lower your chance of getting cancer. Colored pigments like beta-carotene are converted into vitamin A which helps maintain a healthy mucous membrane and healthy eyes. Carotenoids are also good for the heart and can significantly lower a person’s risk of having a heart attack. Although citrus fruits are NOT a good source of vitamin A, they are a good source of vitamin C and folate. Some examples from the orange and yellow category include: carrots, sweet potatoes, yellow peppers, pumpkins, pineapple, papayas, cantaloupes, tangerines, mangoes, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and squash.
- Green– Green fruits and vegetables contain many nutrients such as chlorophyll, fiber, lutein, calcium, folate, vitamin C, calcium, and many more! The health benefits of green fruits and vegetables include preventing cancer, improving vision, maintaining strong bones and teeth, prevention osteoporosis, lowering blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, boosting immune function, and removing damaging substances from the body. The darkness of the green can also indicate the food’s nutrient density. Generally, the darker the green (especially for leafy green vegetables) the more nutrients and benefits it has. That is why salads made with kale and spinach are more nutritious than those made with romaine and especially more nutritious than those made with Iceberg lettuce which has almost no nutrients. Other green fruits and vegetables include: green beans, green peas, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, cucumbers, asparagus, watercress, honeydew, green apples, green grapes, limes, avocados, green peppers, kiwi, and zucchini.
- Blue and Purple– These fruits and vegetables are famous for being packed with antioxidants that help repair cell damage and detox the body. Blue and purple fruits and vegetables will help your body stay healthy as your age, keep your memory strong, keep your bladder healthy, lower your blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, and lower your chance of getting cancer. Some examples of blue and purple fruits and vegetable are: eggplant, purple cabbage, blueberries, purple grapes, purple potatoes, figs, plums, blackberries, and juneberries.
- White and Brown– Anthoxanthins are the pigment responsible for these fruits and vegetables’ color and nutritional benefits. Health promoting chemicals such as allicin are anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral. The health benefits of these fruits and vegetables activate natural killer B and T cells, prevents cancer and heart disease, balance hormone levels, and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Some examples of white and brown fruits and vegetables are: onion, ginger, mushrooms, jicama, bananas, cauliflower, and turnips.
There are many places to find cheap fruits and vegetables in New York City year round. The best place to look for affordable produce are the Green Carts in your neighborhood. They have excellent prices like 5 bananas for $1 or 2 large containers or strawberries for $3. Fruits and vegetables that are in season will typically be cheaper and more available. Farmers’ markets like the one at Union Square also have a great variety of local produce, but beware of occasionally steep prices. It’s helpful to look around at a couple other stores first to have a general idea of what it should cost. Trader Joes has some of the cheapest fruit in the city, but they do not have the variety that other stores like Whole Foods do.
Tips for Parents:
- Most children need to be offered new foods over and over again before it becomes familiar. Keep trying up to 15 times; even a child expresses dissatisfaction with that food choice. Taste can change over time, especially when children are young.
- Try serving new foods first while a child is still hungry
- Encourage your child to “taste” and let them decide if they want more
- Do not reward or punish passed on what kids do and don’t eat- maintaining a positive attitude towards food helps the child develop healthy eating habits and prevent from emotional eating in the future
- A portion of food for most kids will be the size of their fists- try to get 5 portions a day
- Make a chart for each family member to track the colors consumed in that day. Make eating fruits and veggies fun!
Ideas for how to eat a rainbow:
- Add bananas, berries, or dried fruit to cereal or oatmeal
- Make a smoothie of fresh or frozen fruit, greek yogurt, and fat free milk
- Make juices from a variety of fruits and vegetables
- Chop or slice fruits and vegetables and make a plate with different healthy dippers like hummus, yogurt, oil-based dressings, or healthy sauces
- Make fruit-kabobs or fruit salad with each color of the rainbow
- Always have pre-sliced fruits and veggies available for a quick, ready-to-go snack
Lunch and Dinner-
- Green salads with colorful fruits and vegetables and oil-based dressings are a quick and easy option
- Add lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers to sandwiches and wraps
- Make a vegetable soup or add vegetables to a bean or chicken soup. Make large batches over the weekend and keep some in the freezer for a quick and easy meal
- Make a brown rice stir fry with fresh or frozen veggies