March is National Nutrition Month, a campaign sponsored by the American Dietetic Association to promote nutrition education. This year's theme is Eat Right with Color.
Dietitians are often asked if multivitamins are effective for supplementing or replacing a healthy diet. Brittany Glassett, a registered dietitian at Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver, says it is best to get vitamins and minerals by eating a variety of whole foods.
"Research has yet to conclude if supplements provide the same benefits as getting these nutrients from your diet," Glassett says. Each day, think about including fruits and vegetables from all color families to provide your body with a rainbow of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, substances that protect the cells in your body. Aim for at least three different colors at each meal to obtain maximum health benefits.
Blue/purple: Anthocyanins, found in blueberries, black rice, red cabbage and cherries, are antioxidants that are believed to decrease inflammation associated with arthritis and heart disease. These foods also contain resveratrol, an antioxidant specifically linked to protecting against heart disease and maintaining eye health. Anthocyanins also contain anti-aging properties, promote urinary tract health and may help with memory. Blueberries, likely because of the anthocyanins, have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood pressure.
Red: Tomatoes, beets, watermelon and pomegranates all contain lycopene, an antioxidant that has been linked with decreased risk of prostate cancer in men. The antioxidants in red foods also protect us from heart disease and may benefit those with exercise-induced asthma.
Green: Kale, spinach, broccoli, avocados and asparagus are nutritional powerhouses that are rich in lutein for eye health and vitamin K for bone health. Green fruits and vegetables are also good sources of vitamin C, folate, and magnesium.
Orange/Yellow: Sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, and apricots contain a variety of carotenoids, which enhance immune function. Carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables (not supplements) have been shown to possibly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Orange and yellow foods are also high in vitamin A to help protect the eyes and are thought to fend off colds by boosting immunity.
White: The lack of color in these foods is not for lack of nutrition! Potatoes are high in potassium, an electrolyte that helps lower blood pressure, and vitamin C for immunity. Cauliflower, potatoes and mushrooms contain allicin and quercetin, substances that may defend against cancer and inflammation leading to heart disease. Red onions contain several types of antioxidants including quercetin. Onions and garlic are beneficial for the cardiovascular and immune systems and may also have anti-cancer effects as well.
Brown: The brown group not only contain produce such as dates, but also whole grains including wheat, brown rice and wild rice, which are good sources of fiber to aid with weight management, maintain gut integrity and control blood sugars. They are also packed with B vitamins and iron to keep you energized. Almonds contain heart healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamin E which works as an antioxidant.
Glassett provides a few ideas to add color to your diet:
•Add spinach to your fruit smoothies - you won't even be able to taste it!
•Add a spring mix salad topped with colorful bell peppers and red onion as an appetizer to any meal.
•Mix fresh berries into your morning oatmeal.
•Pack cut-up carrots to eat with lunch or a snack.
•Make a homemade soup with pureed or chopped vegetables including celery, carrots, potatoes and peas. Or add extra vegetables to low-sodium, canned soups.
•Each week or month, find a recipe for a fruit or vegetable you haven't tried before.
Source: Porter Adventist Hospital