Here in New York City, we have had (too) many weeks in a row of freezing temperatures, falling snow, and fluffy winter coats; but, alas, today brings us the unofficial beginning of spring: Daylight Saving Time. We may have lost an hour of sleep, but we’veÂ gained back hope and optimism now that sunnier, longer, and warmer days are just around the corner. Is that the inspirational, motivational sound of a bird chirping in the distance telling me anything is possible? I think so!
Spring also brings with it a bigger and better variety of fresh, in-season produce*, which means it will be even easier to “eatÂ the rainbow,” a great way to ensure youâ€™re getting optimal nutrition in each meal. Every beautiful, bright pigment of a fruit or vegetable indicates what the plant is carrying on the inside. The technical term for these pigments and chemical compounds is â€œphytochemicalsâ€ which play a role outside the usual nutrients and vitamins by acting as antioxidants, protecting cells, and disabling cancer-causing substances. Instead of trying to remember the amount of servings of fruits and vegetables you should be getting each day, it might be easier to focus on color.
Blue or purple foodsâ€”think blueberries, plums, and eggplantsâ€”contain anthocyanin which supports a healthy heart, blood pressure, and circulation andÂ offers anti-inflammatory benefits. The dark green colors found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale stemÂ from chlorophyll, indoles, and isothiocyanates, which encourage the liver to remove any potential carcinogenic substances and may lower the risk of breast and prostate cancers. Lutein supportsÂ eye health, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, and is found in yellow-green-colored foods like kiwifruit, avocado, and pistachios, while lycopeneâ€”found in red plant foods like tomatoes, watermelon, and cranberriesâ€”promotes cancer protection and may lower both low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and total cholesterol. Red foods also boast flavonoids which carry anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and may help prevent coronary heart disease and cancer. Orange-yellow foods like carrots, pumpkins, apricots, and mangos contain beta-cryptoxanthin and beta-carotene, which convert in the body to vitamin A, another key component for healthy vision and immune function.
Consider the following:
- The next time you’re at the supermarket, let nature do the shopping for you. Allow your eye to fall on the most vibrant of fruits and vegetables in the produce section, thenÂ buy a mix of those.
- Before you eatÂ a meal at home or take one with you to work, count your colors. Try to have at least three differently colored foods on your plate.
- Be adventurous.Â Add fruits and vegetables to dishes you normally might not, like strawberries to your salad, collard greens to your quinoa, or peas to your pasta.
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis helps you create the right mix of nutrient profiles. When you stock your refrigerator regularly with colorful fruits and vegetablesâ€”or have a plan to order these when eating outâ€”you not only establish lifelong habits, but you also lower your chances of obesity, cancer, andÂ other chronic diseases.
*If you can’t find fresh produce, frozen or canned works fine, too. Just be sure to check theÂ Nutrition Facts Label and ingredients list to avoid added sugar, salt, or fat.
[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in,Â YoffieLife.comÂ on October 26, 2014.]