For my second contribution to Inside AIA- I focused on the health benefits of colorful fruits and vegetables. The benefits of each are detailed below- along with some simple recipes to get you started.
Below, the color categories are detailed along with their health benefits and examples of fruits and vegetables that fit the group. If you seek out the produce that’s in season in your local markets, you can eat healthfully and affordably throughout the year, and enjoy better tasting produce as well.
Red Fruits & Vegetables: The nutrient lycopene gives these fruits and vegetables their red color, and provides the majority of their health benefits. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant, which protects from a variety of cancers, and protects cells overall from free-radical damage. It also protects against inflammation throughout the body, and has been shown to help prevent heart attacks.
Examples: tomatoes, cranberries, pink grapefruit, guava, watermelon, beets, red onions, red apples, raspberries, red peppers, red grapes, strawberries, cherries, radishes.
Orange & Yellow Fruits & Vegetables: These fruits and vegetables are rich in alpha and beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A- a powerful protector of the immune system. Vitamin A also helps your skin and eyes function properly, and can protect against cataracts. Orange and yellow produce may also protect against lung, esophagus, and stomach cancers, as well as heart disease.
Examples: carrots, mangoes, cantaloupe, butternut squash, yellow peppers, pumpkins, oranges, sweet potatoes, lemons, permissions, peaches, yellow apples, corn, yellow tomatoes.
Green Fruits & Vegetables: This group of fruits and vegetables provide a potent combination of lutein, folate, and vitamin C. They protect from macular degeneration, help lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels, and protect the body from inflammation and free radicals. Folate also protects pregnant women and contributes to the development of a healthy baby.
Examples: spinach, green beans, pistachios, avocado, kiwi, asparagus, broccoli, green apples, green beans, green grapes, honeydew, limes, sno peas, Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, celery.
Blue & Purple Fruits & Vegetables: The darker the blue/purple hue of these fruits and vegetables, the higher the concentration of nutrients and antioxidants they contain. These provide potent protection for the heart, and lower the risk of cancers and protect against inflammation throughout the body. The vitamin C in these fruits and vegetables also gives the immune system a boost.
Examples: blueberries, eggplant, purple grapes, plumbs, blackberries, pomegranates, purple potatoes, purple asparagus, purple figs, purple carrots, raisins, black currants, black salsify.
The best way to incorporate all of these fruits and vegetables into your daily diet is to eat multiple varieties in one sitting. Try roasting several heartier vegetables together in the oven mixed with olive oil, salt and pepper until tender. Or make up a fruit salad with multiple colored fruits to have with breakfast or as a snack. Just be mindful that a high proportion of a fruit or vegetable’s nutrients reside in its skin, so try to keep the peel on if you can. Salads, like the one below, are one of my favorite ways to get a healthy dose of produce.
Mixed Greens Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
In a large bowl, combine several handfuls of the greens of your choice (try spinach, kale, romaine, watercress). Next, add ¼ cup each of the fruits and vegetables of your choice, chopped into similar size. Below are come combinations to get you started:
- Roasted butternut squash, red onions, green apples, purple figs
- Tomatoes, carrots, corn, blueberries, cucumbers
- Purple potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberries
- Watermelon, radishes, yellow peppers, oranges, asparagus
After you add your toppings to the bowl with the mixed greens, add your dressing. Use a light dressing of your choice, or try the one below:
- In a small bowl, add the juice and zest of one lemon, 3 tablespoons olive oil, one garlic clove grated, and ginger grated to taste. Whisk everything together, and add salt and pepper to taste. If you have fresh herbs on hand, mince those and add them to the mix. Basil, parsley, thyme, and chives work well. You can use any citrus you like in place of the lemon- try lime, grapefruit, or orange for variety.
Pour the dressing over your salad and toss everything to combine. Add nuts like pistachios, cashews, almonds, or walnuts to provide healthy fat so your body can absorb all the nutrients from the fruits and vegetables.