Follow the Rainbow

Go to your kitchen and open the fridge – what do you see? Perhaps left-over chinese, cold pizza, hot dogs or beer?  Do you see any brightly colored vegetables or fruits like apples, blueberries, red peppers or spinach? If not, then my dear friend, you and your fridge need a makeover!

Vegetables and fruits contain essential vitamins, minerals and micronutrients which provide an array of health benefits by keeping your immune system strong and capable of fighting disease and chronic illness such as stroke, diabetes and certain cancers. A growing body of research shows that the average American, including children, simply do not consume enough fruits and veggies. Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet (SAD…very “sad”) consists primarily of chemically laden, commercially packaged processed foods: hot dogs and deli meats full of nitrates, simple carbohydrates and refined sugars found in bread, cereal and ice cream as well as trans fats (a literal scientific experiment) found in many fast foods, movie popcorn, and margarine!  Yes, margarine…it was once touted to be healthier over butter, but did you know that margarine, given the means in which it is manufactured, is actually a grayish color instead of the yellow, butter-like color it otherwise appears to be? Although many of us have become aware of the fact that trans fats wreak havoc on the body and food manufacturers are beginning to promote foods free of trans fats, a lot of folks still haven’t caught on.  My dear great-grandmother passed from this earth with a stick of margarine in one hand and a packet of Sweet-n-Low in the other! But let us not get side-tracked as we will delve further into the subject of “bad vs. good fats” at a later date. Getting back to vegetables and fruits…

One of the issues we contend with today is that our fast-paced, constantly on-the-go lifestyle doesn’t allow for a lot of time or creativity when it comes to meal preparation. It’s time to resume control of what we eat and the only way to do so effectively is to make the commitment to prepare more meals at home from fresh, whole food ingredients. With a little preparation and planning, you will find it simple to incorporate healthy food choices than previously conceived. So, where to start?  Well, hit your local farmer’s market or nearby health food store and head straight to the produce section. In most stores, produce will be located somewhere along the outside perimeter. Get colorful! Chose fruits and vegetables from each color category as follows:

Green Vegetables and Fruits: Asparagus, Green Apple, Cabbage, Broccoli, Green Pepper, Honeydew, Green Beans, Zucchini, Avocado, Spinach

Green vegetables contain chlorophyll, fiber, lutein, zeaxanthin, calcium, folate, vitamin C, calcium, and beta-carotene. What is chlorophyll and why is it important? Well, chlorophyll is what enables photosynthesis which, if you think back to your high school Natural Sciences course, is the means in which plants derive energy from light. The nutrients found in green vegetables and fruits lower cancer risk, help to normalize blood pressure as well as aid in maintaining appropriate LDL to HDL ratios. Green veggies also help support vision, fight harmful free-radicals, and boost immunity!

Red Vegetables and Fruits: Beets, Cherries, Pink grapefruit, Red Pepper, Tomatoes, Radishes, Strawberries, Watermelon, Pomegranate, Goji Berries

Red vegetables and fruits contain nutrients such as lycopene, ellagic acid and quercetin. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant to which some say is more potent that Vitamin E. Antioxidants help defend against carcinogens and free-radicals, which over time, cause disease and aging. To further, research has shown that lycopene, as found in tomatoes, reduces prostate cancer risk. Ellagic acid and quercetin are also known to be very strong antioxidants with claimed benefits to certain cancers and heart disease.

Orange and Yellow Vegetables and Fruits: Apricots, Spaghetti Squash, Lemon, Nectarine, Grapefruit, Carrots, Yellow Figs, Cantaloupe, Yellow Pepper, Yam or Sweet Potato

Yellow and orange veggies and fruits contain beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, flavonoids, lycopene, potassium, as well as vitamin C. Beta-carotene is a plant carotenoid which when consumed in its natural state, is converted to Vitamin A in the body (a retinol). It is also what gives yellow and orange foods their color. Beta-carotene provides a number of benefits to the body: improves night vision and prevents night blindness, promotes the formation of strong bones, guards against bacterial, parasitic and viral infections, keeps skin healthy and smooth, guards against heart disease, stroke and lowers blood pressure. Quick pointer: Beta-carotene/vitamin A is a fat-soluable substance. Accompany with a little fat for best absorption.

Blue and Purple Vegetables and Fruits: Blackberries, Plums, Eggplant, Blueberries, Purple Cabbage, Black Currant, Purple Grapes

Contain nutrients which include lutein, zeaxanthin, resveratrol, vitamin C, fiber, flavonoids, ellagic acid, and quercetin. You’ve likely heard about Resveratrol touted as having powerful anti-aging properties and is the hot topic of much of the anti-aging research currently underway. Some studies conclude that Resveratrol can extend life by counteracting the negative impact of high glucose and insulin blood levels and reducing overall systemic inflammation.  It is also thought to prevent heart disease and protect the brain against Alzheimer’s.

White Vegetables and Fruits: Mushrooms, Cauliflower, Turnips, Onions, Jicama, Bananas, Onions, Garlic, Potatoes, Shallots

White veggies and fruits contain nutrients such as Ergothioneine, beta-glucans, as well as EGCG and SDG which provide powerful immune boosting activities. These nutrients also activate natural killer B and T cells, reducing the risk of colon, breast, and prostate cancers. Ergothioneine is a powerful antioxidant present in the mushroom and is very effective in free-radical protection as well as boosting up immunity. Mushrooms contain natural antibiotics (similar to penicillin, which itself is extracted from mushrooms) which inhibit microbial and other fungal infections.

Something important to remember…cooking vegetables and fruits should be avoided as much as possible. High heat destroys all of the wonderful micronutrients and enzymes that provide us with the amazing health benefits described above.  What is my recommendation for this? Salads and Smoothies! In the morning, throw a handful of berries, melon, banana, peaches, etc., into a blender.  Add a little ice and a splash of almond or coconut milk and blend well. Its absolutely delicious and filling, too!  For lunch and/or dinner make a fresh salad filled with spinach, cucumbers, red peppers, green onion, purple cabbage, apples or berries and sprinkle with a small handful of almonds or pecans on top. Top off with my ACV recipe and you’re good to go! Lastly, if you prefer not to eat certain vegetables raw like broccoli, green beans or asparagus, lightly steam for 2-3 minutes.  The texture should still be crunchy but perhaps a bit more palatable for those who are accustomed to eating vegetables cooked versus raw. Add a dash of sea salt and for extra flavor, sprinkle with a flavorful oil such as sesame, peanut, or olive. One last thing…be mindful of The Dirty Dozen and select organic when possible!

Take a ride on the produce rainbow and nourish yourself daily with delicious, healthy fruits and veggies!