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Taste The Healthier Rainbow

Americans have fallen in love with candy. But those sugary shells don’t get to steal all the credit for their mass appeal. Part of candy’s initial intrigue is its assortment of bright shining colors. After all, we eat with our eyes first. So why does color have so much influence? Perhaps it has evolved from nature’s system of naturally color-coding fresh fruits and vegetables in a way that reflects their abundance and diversity of nutrients. Color is nature’s nutrition label. All the different colors of fruits and veggies are indicators of the different vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals found inside. Phytochemicals, which are most responsible for the actual colors, act as antioxidants in our bodies, fighting off free radicals that try to damage cells and cause disease. By using these color tags, nature has turned healthy eating into a much easier formula: more colors = greater dersity of nutrients = a healthier you!

Vegetable Color Wheel

Let’s take a look at each color group to see some of the natural health benefits that fruits and vegetables in these hues can hold.
  • RED: Some red fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes and watermelon, are packed full of lycopene, a phytochemical that is heavily researched for its role in preventing prostate cancer. Other red fruits and veggies, such as raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, beets, and cherries, contain anthocyanins, which are phytochemicals that help control high blood pressure and regulate blood sugars.
  • ORANGE & YELLOW: It’s true that eating vitamin A rich carrots is good for your vision, but yellow and orange fruits and veggies do a lot more than that! Anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits are abundant in these often sweeter vegetables like butternut squash and sweet potatoes. Citrus fruits, rich in vitamin C, also dominate this color category.
  • GREEN: Green fruits and veggies play a major role in protecting your vision, keeping your skin beautiful, and helping fight off several types of cancer. And when it comes to picking greens, shade matters. The darker, the better! Kale seems to steal the spotlight these days, but there are many other dark leafy greens with just as much disease fighting power. Swiss chard, collard greens, arugula, and good old-fashioned spinach are all rich in vitamin K, iron and calcium, and deliver many similar health benefits to the oh so popular kale. But why stop at lettuce. Fill your basket with green fruits too: kiwis, grapes, pears, and honeydew make for sweet natural treats!
  • BLUE & PURPLE: Blue and purple powerhouses are packed full of phytochemicals that deliver anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits and lower risk of heart disease. And just like greens, look for deep shades. Some of our favorites are blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, and purple cabbage. But let’s not forget about a few of the more unusual selections, such as the varieties of carrots, cauliflower, and asparagus that naturally grow in a bright purple shade.
  • WHITE: This color family often gets a bad rap, but many cancer-fighting and heart-protecting foods come in shades of white. So give potatoes a break! While plain on the outside, they provide your body with fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and B vitamins just to name a few. The key is preparing them in a healthy way – baking hand cut fries or mashing them with part cauliflower. Alliums also tend to be white: onions, garlic, shallots, and leeks. This family of vegetables contains organosulfur compounds that protects against cancer as well as adds tasty flavor to your homemade meals.

Each color presents unique health benefits, so the best gift you can give your body is to eat across the rainbow. This spring, choose nature’s colors to brighten your plate!

Vahista B. Ussery, MS, MBA, RDN, is a Child Nutrition Consultant and Chef and Guest Expert with the Heart’s Kitchen.

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