by Jen Rawson, RD
“Eat your fruit and vegetables!” We’ve heard this phrase since we were children—just another example of sage advice uttered by our parents. Whether they knew they were encouraging healthy habits or just trying to avoid seeing more broccoli go in the garbage, it taught us a lesson.
Dietitians get asked a lot of questions about fruit and vegetables, such as: which ones are the healthiest? Is kale really the superfood it’s made out to be? Do I need to eat goji berries every day in order to reach age 90? The secret to healthy eating is really a lot simpler. It’s variety. Vegetables and fruit come in a huge assortment of colours, and each colour tells us a little something about the vitamins and minerals contained within. By eating a variety of colours, we
can access a wider selection of vitamins, minerals and nutrients for our bodies. Read on for the benefits of the various colours.
Vegetables and fruit that fit into this category are higher in beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A within the body. Vitamin A plays an important role in eye and skin health. These foods are also high in vitamin C, which assists in immune functioning, absorption of iron, and prevention of cell damage.
Vegetables: carrot, squash, sweet potato, bell pepper, pumpkin
Fruit: orange, banana, lemon, pineapple, mango, papaya, apricot
Green fruits and vegetables tend to be high in fibre as well as rich in folate, calcium, potassium and vitamin K. Folate is especially important for pregnant or women who wish to become pregnant as it helps prevent neural tube defects in infants. Both calcium and vitamin K play a role in bone formation and health. Vitamin K is also important for blood clotting, while potassium plays an essential role in heart functioning and blood pressure regulation.
Vegetables: leafy greens (spinach, kale, swiss chard, cabbage), bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, artichoke, asparagus, green beans, peas
Fruit: pear, honeydew melon, kiwi, green grapes, avocado
Anthocyanins and lycopene are antioxidants that give the vibrant colour to this group. Antioxidants have multiple health-promoting properties that may reduce cancer and heart disease risk, reduce joint pain, reduce inflammation in the body and promote healthy blood pressure.
Vegetables: tomato, bell pepper, radish, beet, purple cabbage, eggplant
Fruit: cherry, pomegranate, red grapefruit, plum, watermelon, berries
(strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries)
Tips for Eating the Rainbow
While the concept of variety is great, in practice there are some obstacles that make it more difficult to achieve. Seasons affect the availability, price and quality of produce. Eating fresh cherries in the middle of winter in Canada simply isn’t feasible. Cooking for a family that includes picky eaters can also make varying vegetables and fruit problematic and lead to excess food waste. Additionally, lack of exposure to varieties of vegetables can may make their preparation challenging. It can be overwhelming to figure out how to cut an artichoke, let alone cook with it. Use these simple tips to increase the variety of vegetables and fruit in your diet:
Frozen produce is often more economical, particularly when an item is out of season. You can also freeze your own produce when it’s in season to reduce food waste and allow for greater variety in later months.
Turn on the blender.
Smoothies are a great way to eat more vegetables and fruit, as well as use up overripe produce that might otherwise go to waste. Leafy green vegetables blend well in smoothies with minimal to no taste difference, so even the pickiest eaters might be fooled. All sorts of vegetables can be pureed and added into sauces, soups and casseroles.
Make it fun.
Include your kids in picking out new produce items at the supermarket. Engage them in the process of cutting and preparing it. Look on the internet to discover what area of the world the produce comes from and how it’s traditionally used. Not only will you try something new, you’ll learn about another culture.
Make use of cooking websites and Pinterest boards. Search for the vegetable or fruit that you wish to prepare and you will find hundreds of new recipes you can try. Unsure about how to cut or prepare something? There is an online tutorial or video for every food item out there.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs allow you to connect with local farmers in your area. Most programs work by purchasing a share in a farm for a season and in return you get fresh, seasonal, and locally grown produce delivered to your city weekly. With most CSAs the type of produce is pre-set, so you may receive items you’ve never encountered before. Use this as an opportunity to try something new and increase the variety in your diet.
Jen Rawson is a Registered Dietitian from Calgary who works in a private practice specializing in intuitive eating, sports nutrition and gut health. She is passionate about running and travelling, often combining the two at destination races.