You may not consider yourself an artist, but you could be when it comes to preparing your meals. Adding colorful fruits and vegetables to your meals is an easy way to increase the nutritional quality of your diet. We’ve all heard to increase our fruit and vegetable consumption, but now we are learning more and more about how the pigments may be of major benefit. To continue our celebration and recognition of National Nutrition Month, let’s discuss more colors and pigments and the role they may have on our health.
Blue and purple fruits and vegetables (blueberries, blackberries, purple cabbage, eggplant, plums, grapes, figs, raisins and prunes) are pretty exciting when it comes to research on disease prevention. The blue and purple pigments in produce are called “anthocyanins” which can act as powerful antioxidants that protect cells from damage. They have been associated with reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. Since anthocyanins help reduce oxidative damage, this pigment is associated with anti-aging properties, especially when it comes to memory function. Other potential benefits that have been studied include improving urinary tract health and preventing high blood pressure. Just adding a handful of berries to your breakfast can provide a powerful antioxidant punch to your morning routine.
Going with green produce also will provide a mouthful of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Green foods get their color from chlorophyll and are typically good sources of vitamins A, K and C. Leafy greens, peppers, peas, cucumber and celery provide lutein, which is a carotenoid that acts as an antioxidant in eye health. Researchers are hopeful that diets rich in lutein may prevent age-related vision impairment. Green veggies also are a great way to get folate for brain health, as well as prevent birth defects. “Indoles” found in broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage may protect against some cancers. The intake of this pigment may be hindered by the use of certain blood thinners that have an interaction with vitamin K. Balancing this medication with intake of vitamin K is something that should be discussed with your health care provider before changing your diet.
Oftentimes, white is not recognized for its role in our health. The plant chemical “anthoxanthins” are prevalent in white-pigmented produce and may help with promoting healthy cholesterol and blood pressure - reducing overall risk of heart disease. White-pigmented foods such as bananas and potatoes are rich in potassium, as well. Other foods to try in this category are onions, garlic, ginger, jicama, turnips, cauliflower and mushrooms.
So take a look at your plate. Can you add a little color at meals or maybe with a snack? Given that much of our colorful produce is not in season, using frozen fruits and vegetables is a suitable option. In fact, since most frozen produce was picked at the peak of ripeness, the nutrients are well-retained and may be higher than that of the fresh options available in our stores now. You also may elect to add herbs and spices - a quick way to add antioxidant power to your meals.
Whitney Roberts is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator for the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center.