Summer provides a wonderful opportunity to include the bounty of beautiful and nutritious plant-based foods into our diet. I don’t know about you, but I love those first fresh veggies of the season like spinach, lettuce, kale, beets and asparagus, followed by the summer staples of juicy tomatoes, corn on the cob, string beans and sweet melons. We have the added fortune of living in an area where there are many farmers markets and opportunities for CSA shares (community supported agriculture) that provide local, fresh and organic produce to choose from (while supporting local farmers). Sometimes, you can have this amazing produce delivered right to your door!
Most people live under the assumption that vegetables and plant-based foods are “good for you” and are something they should eat more of. But other than your mother, grandmother or your doctor telling you that you should eat more fruits and vegetables, do you actually know WHY? Do you understand what colorful vegetables and fruits actually DO for your body and your cells? Well, I’m here to tell you! Let’s get our food-geek on together.
Health Benefits of Each Food Color
Apart from vitamins, minerals, fiber and water (which are all very important) the colorful part of vegetables and fruits (and whole-grains too!) contain special plant chemicals called phytonutrients. This is where the magic happens! Phytonutrients are essentially the plants’ “immune system” that helps to protect them from pests, fungi, germs, and help them survive the elements. So when we eat plants, we are ingesting these nutrients that, in turn, provide health-protective qualities for us.
Organically grown fruits and vegetables grown without chemical herbicides and pesticides have to work even harder to withstand the stress of their environment and can even be more nutritious than their conventionally grown counterparts. In addition to having anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, here are some of the specific benefits of eating colorful plant foods:
Red: Apples, beets, red bell peppers, grapes
Benefits: heart health, gastrointestinal health, liver health, hormone health
Orange: apricots, oranges, carrots, pumpkin, yams
Benefits: anti-bacterial, skin health, vitamin A, reproductive health
Yellow: banana, yellow peppers, lemon, pineapple, corn
Benefits: cognition, eye health, vascular health
Green: green leafy vegetables, cabbage, broccoli, string beans, green tea
Benefits: brain health, skin health, hormone balance, liver health
Blue/Purple: berries, eggplant, plums, figs, black rice
Benefits: cognitive health, heart health, liver health
White/tan/brown: cauliflower, cocoa, coconut, mushrooms, whole grains, onions
Benefits: anti-microbial, gastrointestinal health, heart health, hormone health, liver health
As you can see, food is powerful, and it sets the stage for good health and prevention against chronic health issues. Aim for at least 9 servings of a variety of plant foods daily for optimal health. A typical serving is ½ cup cooked, 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables, or a small to medium sized piece of fruit.