Guide to a Colorful Plate
It is common to hear that eating the rainbow or having a variety of colors on your plate is something you should incorporate into your meals. Why is that? Each color has something unique to it.
Phytochemicals are chemicals in plants that give them their color. While they’re not considered “essential nutrients” research shows that they can provide vast health benefits, especially to reduce chronic disease risk. The bright colors of plants also tell you whether or not your produce is ready to eat, the health of the plant, and the health benefits that are provided by these phytochemicals. These plant chemicals give plants a unique color, which also gives the plant a unique taste. Not everything is known about the benefits of phytochemicals in the produce that we eat, but we do know that they work with the fiber, vitamins, and minerals in the fruits and vegetables to help lower your risk of disease. There are thousands of phytochemicals that we know of that are in plant based foods that can benefit our health.
Red produce comes from a pigment from plants, lycopene. This pigment is an antioxidant that can help reduce the risk of cancer and improve heart health.
Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables get their color from carotenoids. Vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and mangos contain a type of carotenoid known as betacarotene. This is converted to vitamin A, which helps support eye health.
Green pigments come from chlorophyll and some contain indoles. These have properties that may lower your risk of cancer. Some green fruits and vegetables contain lutein, which also helps with vision. Dark leafy greens also contain folate. Other green fruits and vegetables also contain vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
Blue and purple contain the pigment anthocyanin. This pigment also has antioxidant properties that protect cells from damage and can help reduce the risk of cancer, dementia, and heart disease.
Brown and white pigmented fruits and vegetables contain allicin (phytochemical), also found in garlic, has antiviral and antibacterial properties that can help improve the immune system. “Smelly” veggies like garlic and onion also contain sulfur compounds that have proved protective of the GI tract.
How to improve your health?
As Skittles would say, eat a rainbow! Challenge yourself to incorporate all colors of fruits and veggies on a weekly basis, including 4-9 servings of fruits and veggies daily. Yes, daily! A serving is a ½ cup portion of either, and while it may seem like a lot, these contribute very little calorie intake to your diet (4 half cup servings of fruit and 4 servings of veggies daily is <450 calories daily) while making you feel more satisfied after meals. By increasing your daily servings and adding in different colors, you'll also be increasing your vitamin and mineral density in your diet!