Fruits and vegetables are naturally colorful and vibrant. Families can take advantage of the visual appeal of a rainbow of colors from the world’s most nutrient-dense foods to help kids eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day (seven to nine for adults). Whether these foods come straight from the garden, the produce section of the farmers market or grocery store, or even the frozen and canned food aisles of the store, you can pack a nutritional punch by choosing a mix of fruits and vegetables from the five main colors of the fruits and veggies rainbow—red, yellow/orange, green, blue/purple and white/tan/brown.
Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals; low in calories and sodium; and rich in a variety of phytochemicals—natural compounds that are powerful disease fighters. In fact, the deeper the color, the greater the phytochemical content.
RED. The color “red” means a food is both heart-healthy and a potential cancer and carcinogenic fighter. High in lycopene, tomatoes are potent antioxidants. Apples, cherries, strawberries and raspberries are loaded with anthocyanins to optimize heart health. Berries and pomegranates contain ellagicacid, which may help to decrease cancer risk by countering the harmful effects of cigarette smoke, processed foods and barbequed meats. Red and purples grapes are loaded with resveratrol, which decreases heart disease and stroke risk.
Choose beets, blood oranges, cherries, cranberries, pink and red grapefruit, pomegranates, radishes, raspberries, red apples, red grapes, red onions, red peppers, strawberries, tomatoes and watermelon.
YELLOW/ORANGE. The Dietary Guidelines emphasize a greater intake of yellow/orange fruits and vegetables for good reason—they are rich in vitamin A (and its precursor carotenoids), which supports healthy vision and the citrus family is loaded with vitamin C, which can help fight infection. They also are high in folate (especially important for women of child-bearing age to prevent birth defects). Oranges and orange and yellow peppers are loaded with lutein and zeoxanthin, which help with vision.
Choose apricots, butternut squash, cantaloupe, carrots, grapefruit, lemons, mangoes, nectarines, orange, tangerines, orange peppers, papayas, peaches, persimmons, pineapple, pumpkin, rutabaga, sweet corn, sweet potatoes and yellow apples.
GREEN. Often shunned by kids and adults alike for their strong flavors, the green vegetables are nutrient powerhouses and potent disease fighters. The dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach and kale are high in folic acid, vitamin K, magnesium, calcium and iron. The somewhat bitter bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage contain indoles, which are thought to be potent cancer fighters. Asparagus, spinach and broccoli contain glutathione, which helps to optimize immune function. (Remember, it can take 15 to 20 times for a child to like a previously rejected food. Just keep introducing them in different ways and the greens-rejecting family members will come around.)
Choose artichokes, arugula, asparagus, avocado, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery, collard greens, cucumbers, edamame, endive, green apples, green beans, green cabbage, green grapes, green onions, green pears, green peppers, herbs, honeydew melon, kale, kiwifruit, leafy greens, lettuce, okra, peas, spinach, sugar snap peas, swiss chard, turnip greens, watercress and zucchini.
BLUE/PURPLE/BLACK. This color group includes blueberries, which have the highest concentration of phytochemicals. These fruits and vegetables are thought to help protect against age-related memory loss, as well as help maintain heart health, prevent urinary tract infections and decrease risk of cancer.
Choose blackberries, black currants, black mulberries, blueberries, boysenberries, eggplant, plums, purple asparagus, purple Belgian endive, purple cabbage, purple carrots, purple figs, purple-fleshed potatoes, purple grapes, purple peppers, prunes and raisins.
TAN/BROWN. While not very colorful, these fruits and vegetables do contain important nutrients including folic acid, fiber, potassium, selenium and vitamin C. They are also potent cancer-fighters. In particular, onions, apples and pears contain quercetin, which is a phytochemical known for its anticancer properties. Garlic and onion also are thought to help destroy cancer cells and decrease levels of circulating fat in the blood stream.
Choose bananas, brown pears, cauliflower, dates, figs, garlic, ginger, jicama, kohlrabi, leeks, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, shallots, turnips, white nectarines and white peaches.
Every day, aim to bring a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables to your plate by choosing a fruit and vegetable of different colors for each meal. Mix and match throughout the week to create visual appeal and increase exposure to a mix of different nutrients.
Check out ACE’s mix of vibrant, healthy,and easy recipes at acefitness.org/acefit/healthy-recipes
You can also see the MyPlate recommendations in action (always filling at least half the plate with fruits and vegetables) with delicious recipes from a mix of famous chefs at the MyPlate Pinterest page.