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Choose a Rainbow: Understanding the Colors of Fruits & Vegetables

March 23, 2020

The vibrant colors of fruits and vegetables are visually appealing, as well as indicators of phytochemicals: protective nutrients that promote health. There is nothing wrong with eating a bunch of green vegetables, however, opting to consume a wider variety of colors in your daily diet will help better meet your nutritional needs.

Fruit and Vegetable Color Groups

Here is a simple guide to understanding the colors and their protective benefits.

Red:

Red provides lycopene, which may help prevent the development of heart disease and some types of cancer (especially prostate cancers). Red produce options are red grapes and apples, cherries, watermelon, red bell peppers, and tomatoes. Fun fact: The lycopene in tomatoes is more available to the body when the tomatoes are cooked……especially in a little olive oil.

Orange/Yellow:

Orange/ yellow provides carotenoids and other antioxidants that protect the body from oxidative stress and boost immune function. Vitamin C and folate from orange-colored produce also help to reduce the risk of heart disease and prevent birth defects. Examples include: mango, oranges, peaches, pumpkin, sweet potatoes apricots, carrots, and corn.

Green:

Green provides lutein, which may reduce the risk of stroke and protect aging eyes from developing cataracts and macular degeneration. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale additionally help reduce cancer risk.  You will get the most benefits from these vegetables by cooking them lightly.

Other green produce include green grapes, apples, honeydew melon, kiwi, spinach, cucumbers, avocado, and green beans.

Blue/Purple:

The deep color in grapes, blueberries, plums, eggplant, red cabbage and beets come from anthocyanins, a phytochemical which may help prevent heart disease and lower the risk of cancer

White:

Garlic and onions contain allicin, a phytochemical that may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Raw garlic additionally has potent antifungal properties and can help to protect against stomach cancers. Other examples of white produce include bananas, cauliflower, mushrooms, potatoes and turnips.

The following recipe is a fun way to work in lots of colorful produce!


Greek Quinoa Salad

*Recipe courtesy of Bobby Flay

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed and finely chopped to a paste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 2 cups red and yellow grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 2 green onions (green and pale green part), thinly sliced
  • 2 pickled cherry peppers, diced
  • 1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 English cucumber, cut into small dice
  • Feta, for sprinkling

DIRECTIONS

  1. Whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, oregano, garlic and some salt and pepper in a small bowl.
  2. Slowly whisk in the oil until emulsified. Let sit at room temperature while you prepare the salad to allow the flavors to meld.
  3. Rinse the quinoa in a strainer until the water runs clear.
  4. Combine the quinoa, 2 cups water, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and cook until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes.
  5. Transfer to a bowl, fluff with a fork and let sit for 5 minutes to cool slightly.
  6. Add the tomatoes, olives, green onions, cherry peppers, red onions, cucumbers and dressing and toss to coat.
  7. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours before serving. The longer it sits the better the flavor.
  8. Just before serving, transfer to a platter and sprinkle feta on top.

Feel free to add your choice of veggies! Bell peppers, shredded carrots, avocado and edamame can make this delicious salad. Include some chopped hard-boiled egg or chicken to boost the protein and stuff this salad into a pita pocket for another delicious meal option.