We still aren’t getting it. Despite decades of studies and public-health nudging, Americans still eat more french fries than fruits and veggies. A pitiable 26 percent of the nation’s adults, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nosh on vegetables three or more times daily. Not good.
Of course you’ve heard: a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is what you need. It can, among other things, help fend off heart disease and stroke, control hypertension, stanch some types of cancer, and ward off eye diseases, painful diverticulitis and maybe even Alzheimer’s .
For heart health alone, a recent Harvard study conclusively found that folks who consumed more than five servings of fruits and vegetables daily had about a 20 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
What you may not know is that, the more colorful your meal, the more healthful it is. Pretty thought, eh? And easy to remember.
Let’s first take a look at the latest dietary recommendations. And stay with me here. I enjoy a scrumptious Reuben sandwich as much as the next guy, but I also want to live a long, vital life hopefully well into my nineties. And… I want the same for you. So, start eating your damned vegetables and fruits, especially the brightest colored ones. Actually, we all should be getting between five and 13 daily servings of fruits and veggies, or 2.5 to six cups. For someone on a daily 2,000-calorie diet, this means 4.5 cups, says the Harvard School of Public Health. I don’t always make the cut – and feel badly when I don’t – but at least I know what to shoot for.
Now let’s extend that to color. If your dish looks bland – you know, all earth tones – it likely will have an unremarkable, if not deleterious, effect on your health. Even a tomato would be an improvement, particularly for guys. One of the pigments that make ‘maters red – lycopene – could help protect against prostate cancer particularly when we cook them. Lycopene is a carotenoid, a compound the body can turn into vitamin A. Studies suggest that carotenoids, found most often in brightly colored fruits and veggies, could also protect against lung, mouth and throat cancer.
What’s more, the important pigments lutein and zeaxanthin are found in abundance in spinach and kale and other boldly colored foods: corn, squash, kiwi and grapes. These pigments are key to good eye health.
Further, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center says brightly colored foods have the highest Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity scores, ORAC being a measure of how well certain foods protect against diseases like heart disease and cancer. The higher the number, the more beneficial that food is. By the way, oxygen radicals are bad chemicals that are always in our bodies. But we can neutralize them before they affect our cells; one way is by eating colorful foods.
Primarily think reds, greens, oranges, blues, purples and yellows, says the U-M, and foods like strawberries, spinach, blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, yellow peppers, carrots and oranges. Or any other fruits or veggies with colors that pop.
And remember, variety is as key as quantity. Toss some blueberries AND strawberries onto your cereal. No one fruit or veggie offers all the nutrients you need to be healthy, as much as you enjoy your daily banana. Check out our produce aisles and pick something new. And why not try a meal centered around one of these foods? Make IT the star.
Thanks for letting me preach. I’ll step off my soapbox now; here’s to our great health. And now, a little Frank Zappa. “Call Any Vegetable”:
No one will know
If you don’t want to let ’em know
No one will know
‘Less it’s you that tells ’em so.
Call and they’ll come to you
Covered with dew
Vegetables dream of responding to you
Shiny and proud by your side,
Holding your hand
While the neighbors decide:
Why is a vegetable
Something to hide?