For many, the new year brings hope for changing lifestyle habits to better our health. We hope to eat better, sleep better, exercise, and manage our stress to better our health and to help manage chronic conditions. What does it mean, to eat the rainbow?
One aspect of a healthier lifestyle is eating a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables. It is undoubtedly proven by research to be the key to longevity, weight management, and management of chronic health conditions, and it could be the most cost effective ‘medicine’ you could ever take!
Low intake of fruits and veggies is associated with obesity, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cancer, COPD, respiratory issues, osteoporosis, your mood (mental health), and your levels of immunity.
Even so, most of us don’t consume enough fruits and vegetables. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that only 1 in 10 of us get a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least 5 servings of veggies and 4 servings of fruit each day. What does a serving size look like? One serving of vegetables would be one cup of leafy greens, or a half cup of cut up veggies. A fruit serving would be 1 medium-sized fruit, or a half cup of cut up fruit.
Think of fruits and veggies as the ‘sparkplugs’ of your body. Simply put, without them, nothing runs right. Fruits and veggies provide the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibers to keep your body systems running. Without them, your body systems become overtaxed and more prone to chronic diseases and conditions.
A helpful tip is to try to eat a ‘rainbow’ of fruits and vegetables each day, but why is this important?
Different colored fruits and vegetables provide different essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that have a combined effect on your body that is greater than the separate effects of an isolated nutrient or vitamin. This is called ‘synergy’ and it is the reason why combining different fruits and veggies every day in your body can help ward off obesity and many chronic diseases.
The pigments in red, blue, and purple fruits and veggies comes from powerful flavonoids with antioxidant abilities called anthocyanins. Healthy heart function and memory are all supported by this color group, as is the ability to ward off certain cancers. Reds fruits and veggies such as cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, ruby red grapefruit, and red bell peppers all are loaded with vitamin C. Red bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A, which supports eye and skin health. And let’s not forget lycopene, an antioxidant that reduces cancer risk and protects heart health that is abundant in tomatoes (especially concentrated in tomato sauce).
Orange and yellow colored fruits and vegetables are known to be rich sources of beta-carotene (which converts to vitamin A in the body). Oranges, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, cantaloupe, mangoes, pineapple, and papaya all provide Vitamin C which a powerful detoxifier and has also been shown to inhibit the growth of tumors, and support healthy skin and connective tissue. They are also rich in potassium, which helps with blood pressure and folic acid. Folic acid supports the production and maintenance of new healthy cells and can also help protect against cancer causing DNA damage.
When most people think of green veggies they think of salad and go straight for the iceberg lettuce at the salad bar. Instead, try experimenting and think outside the box to get a plethora of options. This includes fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, kale, spinach and other deep green veggies and herbs. The greener, the better! Green is a good source of calcium, vitamin E and vitamin K (if you are on blood thinners, check with your doctor about vitamin K rich foods; they could interfere with medications). Light green foods like Brussels sprouts and cabbage are cruciferous veggies and are rich in nutrients that eliminate excess estrogens and other carcinogens from the body and support healthy immune response.
This is an often-forgotten color group, but has powerful benefits for immunity and heart health. Cauliflower, onions, garlic, bananas, mushrooms, and potatoes are rich sources of nutrients. Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable and is becoming a common item even on restaurant menus – cauliflower mashed potatoes, roasted cauliflower, even cauliflower pizza crust! It is versatile and delicious with nutrients that help fight cancer, strengthen bones, and maintain healthy blood vessels. Other benefits of onions, potatoes, and garlic include helping prevent certain cancers and may lower cholesterol levels. Mushrooms are rich in the antioxidant selenium which supports immunity.
Eating a rainbow is a safe, effective way to practice a healthy lifestyle and has so many benefits. Remember to aim for 10 servings a day and mix those colors up all week long! Studies show that most of us eat the same foods over and over again! Experiment and have fun with it! Check out your local farmers markets for fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits. Google any vegetable and you will find lots of new recipes to experiment with. Soups are easy to carry along in a thermos and simple to cook. Cut up vegetables to grab and go with some hummus! There are tons of ways to enjoy and your body will thank you for it!
Cindy Luisi WHE, WHC,CCP CDL Wellness Coach