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National Nutrition Month Encourages Everyone to Eat Right with Color

March 08, 2011

A Rainbow of Fruits and Vegetables Offers a Variety of Nutrients

Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is important for good health. Different colored fruits and vegetables contain different nutrients that together keep your body strong. That’s why the National Dietetic Association is encouraging everyone to "Eat Right with Color" during its National Nutrition Month in March.

"It’s a good time to try to add more color to your plate," said Maggie Villagomez, a registered dietitian at Washington Hospital. "Thinking in terms of color is an easy way to make sure you are getting a wide range of nutrients."

She said with busy schedules, it’s easy to get into a rut and rely on the same few foods at mealtime. Also, many families eat a diet full of processed foods, including fast food, due to convenience. But with the increased availability of bagged salads and pre-cut and frozen fruits and vegetables, it’s easier than ever to incorporate more produce into your diet, she said.

The vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients contained in fruits and vegetables offer enormous health benefits, according to Villagomez. A variety of color can also make food more appetizing and fun to look at, she added.

Villagomez said the color of fruits and vegetables indicate what nutrients they contain and provided the following details about each color group.

Green fruits and vegetables, including avocado, green apples, green grapes, honeydew melons, kiwis, limes, artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, green beans, green peppers, and leafy greens like spinach contain chlorophyll, fiber, lutein, zeaxanthin, calcium, folate, vitamin C, and beta-carotene. These nutrients reduce some cancer risks, lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels, aid digestion, support retinal health and vision, fight harmful free radicals, and boost the immune system.

Red fruits and vegetables like cherries, cranberries, pomegranates, pink grapefruit, red grapes, watermelon, beets, red onions, red peppers, red potatoes, rhubarb, and tomatoes contain lycopene, ellagic acid, quercetin, and hesperidin. These nutrients reduce the risk of prostate cancer, lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels, fight harmful free radicals, and support joint tissue.

Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables such as cantaloupe, apricots, mango, papayas, peaches, pineapples, carrots, yellow peppers, yellow corn, and sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, flavonoids, lycopene, potassium, and vitamin C. These nutrients reduce age-related macular degeneration and the risk of prostate cancer, lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure, promote the formation of collagen and healthy joints, fight harmful free radicals, and help to build healthy bones.

Blue and purple fruits and vegetables, including blackberries, blueberries, plums, raisins, eggplants, purple cabbages, and purple-fleshed potatoes contain lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C, fiber, flavonoids, ellagic acid, and quercetin. These nutrients support retinal health, lower bad cholesterol levels, boost the immune system, support digestion, improve calcium and other mineral absorption, fight inflammation, and reduce tumor growth.

White, tan, and brown fruits and vegetables such as bananas, brown pears, dates, white peaches, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, turnips, white-fleshed potatoes, and white corn contain beta-glucans and lignans, which provide powerful immune-boosting activity. These nutrients also reduce the risk for colon, breast, and prostate cancers, as well as balance hormone levels, reducing the risk for hormone-related cancers like ovarian cancer.

"You don’t need to remember which fruits and vegetables contain what nutrients to eat healthy," Villagomez said. "When you go to the grocery store or farmers’ market, make sure you pick a few items from each color group. That way you know you will be eating a wide variety of nutrients."

For more information, recipes, and tips for eating a healthy diet, visit the American Dietetic Association’s website at www.eatright.org.

Washington Hospital Offers Nutrition Counseling
Washington Hospital’s Outpatient Nutrition Counseling program is available by appointment to provide nutrition counseling for individuals with specific medical needs as well as those who wish to maintain optimal health. Call (510) 745-6542 or visit www.whhs.com/nutrition for more information.