Scientists are regularly reporting new health benefits associated with fruits and vegetables. Eating more fruits and vegetables is a worthwhile goal. Eating a variety of different colors of fruits and vegetables every day is a new way of thinking about meeting the goal.
Eat more fruits
Red fruits and vegetables are colored by natural plant pigments called “lycopene” or “anthocyanins.” Lycopene in tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit, for example, may help reduce risk of several types of cancer, especially prostate cancer. Lycopene in foods containing cooked tomatoes, such as spaghetti sauce, and a small amount of fat are absorbed better than lycopene from raw tomatoes.
Anthocyanins in strawberries, raspberries, red grapes and other fruits and vegetables act as powerful antioxidants that protect cells from damage. Antioxidants are linked with keeping our hearts healthy, too.
These are some examples of the red group:
- Red apples
- Red cabbage
- Pink grapefruit
- Red grapes
- Red peppers
- Red potatoes
Orange/yellow fruits and vegetables are usually colored by natural plant pigments called “carotenoids.” Beta-carotene in sweet potatoes, pumpkins and carrots is converted to vitamin A, which helps maintain healthy mucous membranes and healthy eyes. Scientists have also reported that carotenoid-rich foods can help reduce risk of cancer, heart disease and can improve immune system function.
One study found that people who ate a diet high in carotenoid-rich vegetables were 43 percent less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration, an eye disorder common among the elderly, which can lead to blindness.
Carotenoids also may be good for your heart. One study found that men with high cholesterol who ate plenty of vegetables high in carotenoids had a 36 percent lower chance of heart attack and death than their counterparts who shunned vegetables.
Citrus fruits like oranges are not a good source of vitamin A. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and folate, a B vitamin that helps reduce risk of birth defects.
Some examples of the orange/yellow group include:
- Yellow apples
- Butternut squash
- Yellow peppers
- Yellow summer or winter squash
- Sweet corn
- Sweet potatoes
- Yellow tomatoes
- Yellow watermelon
Green fruits and vegetables are colored by natural plant pigment called “chlorophyll.” Some members of the green group, including spinach and other dark leafy greens, green peppers, peas, cucumber and celery, contain lutein. Lutein works with another chemical, zeaxanthin, found in corn, red peppers, oranges, grapes and egg yolks to help keep eyes healthy. Together, these chemicals may help reduce risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness if untreated.
The “indoles” in broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables may help protect against some types of cancer. Leafy greens such as spinach and broccoli are excellent sources of folate, a B vitamin that helps reduce risk of birth defects.
Some examples of the green group include:
- Green apples
- Green beans
- Brussels sprouts
- Green cabbage
- Green grapes
- Honeydew melon
- Green onions
- Green pepper
Blue/purple fruits and vegetables are colored by natural plant pigments called “anthocyanins.” Anthocyanins in blueberries, grapes and raisins act as powerful antioxidants that protect cells from damage. They may help reduce risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease. Other studies have shown that eating more blueberries is linked with improved memory function and healthy aging.
These are some examples of the blue/purple group:
- Purple grapes
White fruits and vegetables are colored by pigments called “anthoxanthins.” They may contain health-promoting chemicals such as allicin, which may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and may help reduce risk of stomach cancer and heart disease. Some members of the white group, such as bananas and potatoes, are good sources of the mineral potassium, too.
Some examples of the white group include:
What’s a serving size anyway?
Recommendations for fruits and
vegetables are now in cups. One cup equals:
1 small apple
1 large banana
2 cups of raw greens
12 baby carrots
1 large orange
1 large bell pepper
1 medium grapefruit
1 large sweet potato
Tips to increase fruits and vegetables in your diet
Eat a variety of food groups from all the food groups every day. Check the strategies you will try:
- Keep cleaned fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator — ready to eat.
- Have vegetables with low-fat dip for a snack.
- Try commercial prepackaged salads and stir-fry mixes to save prep time.
- Add vegetables to casseroles, stews and soups.
- Drink 100% fruit juice instead of fruit-flavored drinks or soda pop.
- Have fruit for dessert.
- Keep a bowl of apples, bananas and/or oranges on the table.
- Choose a side salad made with a variety of leafy greens.
- Bake with raisin, date or prune puree to reduce fat and increase fiber.
- Add lettuce, onions, peppers and/or tomatoes to sandwiches.
- Order veggie toppings on your pizza.
- Enjoy fruit smoothies for breakfast or snacks.
- Pack fresh or dried fruits for quick snacks.
To preserve nutrients when preparing fruits and vegetables, consider these tips:
- Limit peeling to preserve fiber content.
- Steam, broil, microwave or cook in small amount of water.
- Avoid boiling. Prolonged exposure to water and heat can break down chemicals unstable to high temperatures.
- Serve foods promptly. The longer they stand, the more nutrients are lost.
Improperly handled fruits and vegetables can become contaminated with Salmonella and E. coli, potentially leading to foodborne illnesses. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be washed well with plenty of running water to be safe. Cross contamination must also be avoided. Follow these tips to keep produce safe from store to home:
- Examine fresh fruits and vegetables for signs of freshness before purchase.
- Pack fresh produce away from meats in the grocery cart and in separate bags.
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before preparing fruits and vegetables.
- Rinse all fresh produce with running water, using a brush if necessary. Do not use soap.
- Remove outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage.
- Use separate cutting boards for cutting up fresh produce and for meat.
- Clean cutting boards with soap and water. Sanitize with a solution of 1 tsp. bleach per 1 quart water.
- Serve cut-up fresh produce in containers over ice.
- Store cut-up fruits at or below 40 degrees.
“Choose a Rainbow of different colored Fruits and Vegetables each day and include them in Every Meal. Eat at least 3-4 Servings of Vegetables each day as well as 3-4 Servings of Fruit each day. A Serving is what Fits into the Palm of your Hand.”
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