Since 1980, National Nutrition Month has been an important time of the year to promote nutrition education and healthy eating habits. This year’s theme is “Eat Right with Color” and this episode will delve into the benefits of each of the colors of the rainbow. After listening, you just might want to raid the produce section of your grocery store!
Hi and welcome to Nutritionally Speaking. I’m your host, Michaela Ballmann. March is National Nutrition Month and the theme for this year is “Eat Right With Color”. Variety in the colors of the foods we eat is more important than we might think. By making sure to include all the colors of the rainbow into our diet, we are benefiting from the different vitamins, minerals, and other compounds these foods contain. Let’s take a look at each of the different colors and how they can contribute to a healthy body.
Red is a color that many of us don’t have a problem getting enough of. We eat lots of fresh tomatoes or pasta sauces, red onions and bell peppers, and strawberries. But just to show that there is always room for improvement or at least exploration, how many of us eat beets regularly? Or how about radishes? I hope that this month’s theme inspires you to try new fruits and veggies. So, what is so good about these red foods? One main word comes to mind—Lycopene! Lycopene has been made famous for its role in prostate health, and men have been making a special effort to eat watermelon and tomatoes. Please make note of this! The lycopene in raw tomatoes will not be absorbed as well as that of cooked tomatoes. So try to eat more cooked tomatoes in the form of tomato sauces, stewed tomatoes, and the like to get the most bang for your buck! Rasberries and strawberries, in addition to being loaded with vitamin C, are an excellent source of manganese, which functions as both a constituent of multiple enzymes and an enzyme activator. These enzymes play roles in metabolism, bone development, wound healing, and can also act as antioxidants. Now if you need some motivation to eat beets, here it is! Beets contain antioxidant plant pigments called betanin and vulgoxanthin as well as two types of carotenoids, llutein and zeaxanthin specifically. This veggie is also a good source of folate and magnesium. I know beets just made it onto your grocery list! Try roasting them in the oven at 350 and putting them in a salad. By the way, did you know that tart cherries contain a significant amount of melatonin? Unlike the sweet Bing or Rainier varieties, the sour Montmorency and Balaton cherries may act as a natural sleep aid. So if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, try popping some cherries instead of sleeping pills.
Orange and yellow are another popular color group. So many amazing fruits fall under this category like mangoes, papayas, apricots, persimmons, oranges, peaches, and nectarines. If you’re looking to add more vegetables from this group, go for butternut or other yellow squash, carrots, pumpkin, and yellow peppers. These foods are an amazing source of Vitamin A, also known as carotenoids, with beta-carotene being the most active and most well-known. This vitamin plays a crucial role in vision, growth, and skin health (aka the retinol in your skin cream). On top of that, it functions as an antioxidant. Vitamin C is also abundant in this group. Most of you have taken a vitamin C supplement when trying to fend off a cold, so you know that it acts as both an antioxidant and an immunity booster. It can also help with absorption of iron and helps with would healing as it contributes to the formation of collagen. The last major vitamin for the orange and yellow fruits and vegetables is potassium. Potassium is an important electrolyte that helps maintain acid-base balance, plays a role in muscle contraction and nerve transmission, helps keep calcium in the bones, and may help lower blood pressure. Some of these fruits even provide folate, which we’ll go into more detail about later.
This next group is often underestimated in its nutritive power. How many of you think of white, tan, or brown colored vegetables as being superfoods? Don’t let their calm exterior fool you. Foods like garlic, ginger, mushrooms, onions, turnips, and parsnips are nutritional powerhouses! Though probiotics have been getting the spotlight, garlic and onions act as prebiotics, which promote the growth and activity of good bacteria in the gut. What’s more, garlic contains antibacterial and antifungal properties due to the compound allicin. Allicin may also work to decrease blood pressure and prevent blood clots. Onions also have some other incredible properties. They contain a peptide called GPCS that may prevent bone loss, and they also are a good source of quercetin, which is a flavonols that may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to the point of preventing disease and inhibiting the growth of certain cancer cells. Even the infamous potato has a lot going for it! Make sure to include the skin when you cook it, and you will get a good amount of vitamin C, B6, copper, potassium, and even a phytochemical called Kukoamines that may lower blood pressure. The main reason potatoes get a bad rap is not because of the potato itself, but because of the common cooking methods (think French fries) and condiments used (sour cream and bacon bits could give any food a bad reputation). Since cauliflower is a member of the Brassica oleracea species along with kale and broccoli, this white member is no pushover! It has a huge amount of vitamin C, and also contains Vitamin K, folate, and several types of phytochemicals such as sulforaphane that have anticancer and antimicrobial properties. I’m sure you won’t underestimate these white foods again!
Ahhhh, the familiar phrase “Eat your greens”! I’m sure your mother told you this on more than one occasion while you were picking at your broccoli or crinkling your nose at some rubbery swiss chard on your plate. When cooked properly, greens can taste incredibly good and you will be happy to reap the benefits too! There really are some incredible foods in this group like avocados, kiwi, artichokes, asparagus, leeks, and spinach. I agree with your mom on this one! Pretty much all greens are a super source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as folate and manganese. Asparagus, specifically, contains Saponins which have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties and are also associated with improved blood pressure, blood sugar and blood fat levels. It is also an excellent antioxidant due to the presence of glutathione, and it even contains a fiber called inulin that acts as a prebiotic. Kale is great for lowering cholesterol and risk for several cancers and has dozens of different flavonoids in it. Spinach contains glycoglycerolipids that may act as anti-cancer agents, and it also is very high in folate, which I told you we’d talk about. Folate is essential for DNA and RNA synthesis which makes it important during pregnancy; it is involved in red blood cell production and therefore can prevent anemia; and it regulates homocysteine levels. High homocysteine levels have been linked to heart disease, so you definitely want to get your folate! Basically, you can’t go wrong with green leafy vegetables!
The final group is made up of blues and purples. The fruits in this category like blackberries, blueberries, and figs tend to be more expensive, and the veggies like purple potatoes and eggplant are also less common, which is why fewer people eat large quantities of them, but after this I hope you will go out and buy some fresh or frozen blueberries or make an eggplant dip! Blueberries really are a superfood. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and manganese, but more importantly, they are an incredible antioxidant and rank high on the ORAC scale. The specific antioxidants are anthocyanins and ellagic acid which are cardioprotective and protect against eye damage and cancer. Eggplant gets its claim to fame from the antioxidants primarily in its skin called chlorogenic acid and nasunin, which can lower LDL cholesterol and protect cells from mutating into cancer cells. Though wine has been toted as the main source of resveratrol, this same compound is what gives grapes their dark color. Resveratrol along with the flavonoid quercetin and other antioxidants, work to decrease the risk of heart disease by reducing platelet clumping, protecting LDL cholesterol from oxidation, and have both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Before I send you off to go get some colorful fruits and veggies, let me give you a few quick tips on how to get more of these foods in your diet. First, make them easy to eat and accessible. Put fresh fruit out on the counter; Cut and wash several of your favorite veggies and put them on a pretty platter in the front of your fridge where you can see them easily. Also, don’t be afraid to try something new. Try shopping at the farmers market to see what is in season and ask the farmers how to cook a veggie that you’ve never tried. You’ll notice the difference in the taste and quality and you’ll get some good tips from the person who grew and picked your food. Make sure to make half of your plate fruits and vegetables at each meal—even breakfast! Or, go completely vegetarian for a meal or even a whole day or week! You’ll find that it is easier to eat lots of fruits and veggies when you forego the meat.
Here’s wishing you a happy national nutrition month! As always, if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions email me or go to my website. Thanks again for listening and I’ll see you next time!