By: Olivia Johnson, RD, CD, Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center
We all know it’s important to eat fruits and vegetables throughout the day. But, are you feeling stuck in a rut, eating boring iceberg lettuce salads and munching on apples or bananas for a snack? Not only are there a variety of fruits and vegetables to satisfy your appetite, there are a wide variety of health benefits you can gain from varying your produce selections.
Consider this: Fruits and vegetables come in about seven different colors, and each one of those colors provides a different set of health-promoting properties. I challenge you to try and eat at least one fruit or vegetable from each color category every single day. Think you can do it? I bet you can!
Check out some of the delicious produce options you have to choose from and their unique benefits:
Watermelons, grapefruits and tomatoes contain a phytonutrient called lycopene. Lycopene may aid in cancer prevention. Plus, it may also help to reduce your cardiovascular disease risk by reducing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.
Anthocyanins are antioxidants that may stop inflammation and increase immunity. Where do you find anthocyanins? Grapes, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, prunes, blackberries and blueberries.
When you see a rich orange color, like in carrots, think beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that is associated with improved immune system response, which means it may have cancer fighting abilities. Other foods with beta-carotene include sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, pumpkins and mangos.
Oranges, tangerines, peaches and pineapples are all famous for providing vitamin C, a powerful cell protector. Research also suggests that vitamin C combined with other nutrients might help slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration – one of the leading causes of vision loss in older adults.
Don’t think it’s just carrots that protect your eyes! Spinach, kale, green and yellow peppers and collard greens contain lutein, an antioxidant that may protect vision and lower your risk of macular degeneration.
Sulforaphane, isothiocyanate and indoles are phytochemicals found in broccoli, cabbage, asparagus and brussels sprouts. They may help to prevent tumor growth by limiting the production of cancer-related hormones.
Less color doesn’t mean fewer health benefits. Garlic and onions, for example, contain sulfur compounds that can protect your DNA. Pears and celery contain flavonoids that can protect cell membranes.